Photoessay: Papan, part one

Papan is a small, semi-abandoned town in rural Perak, Malaysia; it’s just outside Ipoh. I suspect that even during boom time, there couldn’t have been more than 300 inhabitants. The remaining residents are elderly, and I suspect have nowhere else to go, or stay out of inertia. For every lived-in building there is an abandoned one; sometimes even the upper stories of occupied buildings are derelict, with caved in roofs and empty windows. Leave anything for long enough, and nature will take its course to reclaim the land. It’s often said that the more advanced a society, the less will be left behind – and the sooner it will all decay. Clearly, not that many years have passed since Papan’s heyday, yet the place is practically a ghost town. However, it’s also a medley of interesting textures and pastel colours; an excellent place for an hour or two of photography. MT

This series shot with a Sony RX100. Thank you to one of my Email School of Photography students, John Chang, for taking me here. EXIF data is intact, click through the images to view larger versions and EXIF data on Flickr.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. I’ve been browsing some of your past photoessays. Now as a very different location to New York and San Fran, this set prompted me to believe you would find a great deal of subject matter in New Mexico and Colorado. Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Mesa Verde , a few small high-elevation towns south of Breckenridge, if you want a city you could add Denver or another. The pastels of New Mexico got me thinking on these lines and sensing that you would likely find a wealth in some of those US locations between NY and SF. Some encouragement for your next US tour 🙂

    • You’re probably right. Now to find the time!

      • Yes, if not budget then time (or both)…. Just mentioning it to you stirs up a very strong longing to return to US Colorado / NM / Wyoming region myself, packing cameras.

        As an aside ~ I was tempted to try for your ’13 class in Amsterdam or that last open spot in Prague, but have felt it best to defer to 2014 at the earliest.

        If you find inland US locations ever draw near to being reality for you, ask your readers for tips and I’m hopeful you would be extremely pleased with the opportunities for fresh and quite possibly stunning subject matter.

        • I’ll keep that in mind. A return to the US for 2014 is on the cards, though not sure where exactly. I do know I’ll do one in Canada, though – lots of people asking…

  2. great shot! btw – how do you frame you pics with the black border with watermarking/URL?? I would like to be able to do something like that – maybe like a filmframe thing around the image…

  3. There is such beauty in decay. Great photographs, Ming.

  4. Wow. It amazes me how much you can get out of the RX100. Wonderful images. Thanks.

  5. Beautiful images! did you have the chance to test rx files with VSCO software? I’m interested in B&W images mostly…Thanks!

  6. Robert Stark says:

    Wonderful photographs, Ming. And if you’ve time for excursions on a future trip to Italy, I know of two abandoned villages; one in the Abruzzi region that was destroyed by an earthquake in the early 20th century and the other a beautiful baroque town in the Lazio region north of Rome. The latter is particularly haunting. Neither have any inhabitants. Of course, ancient archeological sites are marvellous as well, especially the less known ones — such as a Roman site in the Molise that has an overlay of Medieval buildings, largely abandoned but well preserved; sheep still graze the site watched over by shepherds.

    • Thanks Robert. Sounds interesting – a serious tour of Italy has always been on my to-do list (preferably in an open-topped Ferrari, heh) but I’ve just never gotten around to it. I presume these places are photo-friendly?

      • Robert Stark says:

        The “ghost towns” certainly are “photo friendly” — no ugly cars, few or no residents, few other visitors…. Whether individual Italians are happy to be photographed — well that depends upon the region, the place, the person. As I’m a bit shy about asking people if I might photograph them, I can’t really offer a comparative analysis of the regions or with other countries. My wife recently interviewed a knife sharpener who travels around Rome on the same bicycle and using the same knife sharpener (operated by pedalling the bicycle) that he has used since 1950. He was very happy to have me photograph him; a wonderful man of great dignity and grace whose sons are a physician and an engineer — both have lived around the world — his grandchildren are accomplished as well. We think his story would make a beautiful documentary.

        • It would – I think as with everybody, people’s friendliness to being photographed depends very much on your relationship with the person. Then again, I can always get away with looking like the ‘crazy Asian tourist stereotype’ who walks around with a camera photographing anything and everything. Smaller cameras help a lot, too.

  7. Glad I was there to see the Sifu at work! Absolutely endorse your course! JC

  8. Hello Ming !
    As always, great shots and a beautiful perspective of Papan ! I went to Papan last month and and got some shots as well,
    However, mine din’t turn up as great as yours at all. I guessed I’m too into “getting it all in” with a 28mm f/2.8 and an M8.
    I must force myself to get closer next time. User Problem. Haha.

    Once again, great post Ming !

  9. Fantastics images with “only” an RX100 pocketcamera. It shows again that good pics do not come from the camera but mainly from the man behind:-)) @Ming: did you process raws or are these JPEGs?

    • Thanks – these were processed from JPEG.

      • So Ming, these were jpeg images from the Sony RX100. Were they straight OOC (out of camera) or did you tweak them a bit with software? Either way you have a great eye.

        • I don’t show anything SOOC because there’s no camera that can alter output curves for each image. Everything is run through photoshop, but you’ve got a lot less latitude for adjustment if you’re not using a RAW file to begin with.

  10. Beautiful work Ming, amazing what can be done with P&S in the right hands.

  11. Absolutely breathtaking Ming. I wish I could get colours like that. Must be all those expensive Zeiss lenses you have 😉

    • Oh I missed that they were taken with the RX100. I was reading your review of that a few days ago and wishing I had more $$$ in my photography budget. At least if you’d taken shots like that with an M9 with super expensive lenses I could have got that. But a point and shoot? I hate you Ming 😉

  12. Amazing. I love the work. And I may have to pick up your dvd. There is something about the way you process the files that adds to the experience of looking at your images. I love the details, compositions and color harmonies. Your work makes me want to save up for a trip to Asia.

  13. Gorgeous motifs and colours!
    And every time I wonder, how on earth do you achieve this wealth of details!!

  14. So sad … and so beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  15. An excellent set of images with really good colours – the faded elegance comes over in them all. Must have been a colourful place at one time.

  16. Tinker's Realm says:

    Astonishing Images- thank you for sharing!


  1. […] town a few miles south of Ipoh in Malaysia. I came across Papan from Ming Thein’s photoessay on it. This was great from a learning standpoint as it allowed me to go out and shoot the same […]

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