Photoessay: Fukuoka without people

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What is a city without its people? What if a person from several thousand years ago were simply transported into the present day and dropped in any moderately-sized metropolis without any explanation – especially on a Sunday, when only a few brave souls are to be seen wandering the streets, purposefully running the gauntlet or perhaps acting as keepers of the strange world? Nature appears to have taken over in places, though the square rocks remain. Even the animals mostly avoid the place. Strange movable objects line every path. Did something bad happen here? Would they view the cities as strange landscapes? Or recognize them as artificial constructs? Perhaps they would wonder why anybody would leave nature to be all squashed together in square rectangular blocks…or maybe they wouldn’t even view the blocks as fit for human dwelling. To question, to wonder, to dream, to adapt, and go forth out to explore out of curiosity even if it makes us feel a little bit scared. That is what makes us human.

Or, perhaps, I just scared the Fukuokans off with the mighty clap of my Hasselblad mirror 😛 MT

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


  1. … lovely B&W work, particularly the deserted level crossing, the black bird on stone fence, and the two pushbikes in front of the horizontal louvered blind …

  2. chris au says:

    Looks like lithographs.

  3. if your Hasselblad mirror is too loud, perhaps the other Hasselblad mirrorless is better…it is “loud” in its own way

  4. I saw some pretty awesome pictures of Dubai highways where very long daytime exposures (and possibly some skilled photoshopping 😉 made all of the cars disappear. Quite surreal.

    • Lots of grad NDs, small apertures and a tripod – I admit, I didn’t have either of those – all of these were handheld.

      • Compact camera and sunglasses: all the ND filter you’ll ever need (not sure how a pair of Ray Bans would fare in a DxO test, mind…).

        • I actually did that in Grand Central for one of the shots with the Coolpix A because I wanted to drag motion of the people…

          • Yes, I’m guilty of that too! Works well enough after a bit of PP. We’re spoiled by the quality of today’s optics, really.

  5. I kind of prefer the series than a picture as when put all together I see the items which to me (as a foreigners are prominent/famous from the Japanese culture. I wonder what would be the Fukuokans perspective on the series.
    I am also curious, on how to convey the message of the series when printing, does a short book give a better perspective by binding the images together, or would separate posters would give more potential to each image while making more difficult to the audience to link them together? It’s just a naïve question.
    I like these kind of moments where one can feel cast away and yet in the middle of everything. Without going to remote/dangerous places, usually the morning following heavy celebration (like New Year) often gives this kind of feelings to me.

    • There’s this odd sensation of detached abandonment when looking at them. Yet, that’s what I experienced on the day – the place really felt quite dead. I think posters would be more immersive, but a book would enforce a sequence/ order: it really depends what the end goal is. I think the poster approach for this set would work better as there really is no sequence to this, but immersion would strengthen the feeling of loneliness.

  6. Hello Ming, I am also passionate user of Hasselblad and D800E (I also have a M6TTL, but I prefer the MF with the film). What kind of film you use for the black and white?

  7. Hi Ming,

    Great shots, as always.

    What’s your setup for scanning film?


    • Thanks Pedro. D800E, macro lens, flash, and a custom alignment/ tensioning rig – I’ll be making a small run of these for sale at some point in the near future once I get the production sorted out…

      • A lovely series that compliments your previous series of Fukuota.
        I’m excited to see what that rig might look like. When the rig is ready, I am hoping to be one of the first customers (I have the most difficult time scanning b/w film and keeping the film flat – when I see dust and try to blow it off, the breeze bends the film ever so slightly. This is after using the some after-market film holders). I’m wondering if it can be adapted to scan 4×5 film.

        • Thanks. Not easily, we’d have to design another rig. Scanning 120 in rolls or short strips is easy because you can pull either end to tension; you can’t with 4×5 sheets.

  8. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Don`t worry Ming about radiation. After Chernobyl blew its lid off, some russian reporters flew over it in army choppers taking picts, on film off course. The first few days they got them nicely fogged off. No signs on your Hassy takes tell you should be fine. However on some picts I do notice some barrel distortion ( the one with two bikes f.ex. ). A Hassie Zeiss lens, be it wide one?. Must be some new kind of radstortion magnified by optics.

    • The trouble would be that you don’t find out if the film has problems or not until after you get home, and by then it’s probably too late 🙂

      50/4 Distagon FLE has a little distortion, yes.

      • Michael Matthews says:

        I see the slight distortion (now that it’s been pointed out) as enhancing the composition. Do I major in rationalization, or simply lack taste?

  9. Stunning Shots Ming!

  10. Steven Lawrence says:

    What paper would you print these on?

    • Tough question. Not having any experience in optical/ enlarger printing, I’m going to plead ignorance there; however, if I was going via a digital process, I’d probably use HP Premium Matte.

      • Ron Sprunger says:

        I’d love to see them on Harmon Gloss FB AI, for the most authentic “photographic” BW look. I think that paper is now being sold under a different name, but I still have some old stock to use on my most serious prints.

        BTW, seeing these great shots taken the way I’ve always done it (no people) makes me appreciate how much more appealing, in my eyes, are your more usual lively street scenes. I’m seventy years old, and it’s hard to change, but your wonderful street photography has got me trying to include human activity in at least some of my images.


        • Thanks Ron – it appears that this set is somewhat more polarizing than my usual work. I was trying for something between emptiness, loneliness and boredom, plus it’s difficult to find deserted scenes in a Japanese city of several million! I suppose these ‘absent’ concepts are much more difficult to express than the more obvious ones with unusual/outstanding subjects etc.

          Will have to do some research into that paper.

  11. Nice imaging – the pigeon one is the one i’d go with, if i read again the essay’s title .. For real desolation, i’d recommend Pripyat, Chernobilsk

  12. the carp are absolutely beautiful, pure form, no distracting colors. the image is timeless, and the composition classic. could be a brush painting from the middle ages, or a photograph from a post -war japanese book…thank you, Ming ( although I suspect that you will find things to criticize about it,…. ha)

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