Photoessay: Tokyo, on the move

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The taxi

Unusually for me, I shot very little monochrome on my last trip to Tokyo. Almost none at all, in fact. I suspect it was partially due to equipment choice – the Hasselblad’s digital back really excels at reproducing accurate color – that made me want to explore the use of color even more. Either that, or it was the subtle subconscious influence that Saul Leiter’s work has been having on me. His color was not at all accurate, but rather both pleasing and very evocative of an emotion or era; maybe because of the tonal shift, maybe because of the conscious choice of palette.

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Wall of people

Whatever the case though, it got me thinking about the use of color for the sake of color alone – in the same vein that I’ve been exploring abstraction and form in my still life work, I sought to bring this to a more fluid environment. I would describe this set as being transitionary: on one hand, there will be images with a familiar structure to them; on the other hand, there’s also a lot more motion and abstraction to the images than you might normally be used to seeing from me. Trying to combine the elements of motion and structure are tricky, and there are times when I know I instinctively slipped back into my ‘normal’ habits. However, motion can of course be implied even if there is no motion blur in an image – impossible poses, wind, etc. are all fair game.

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Ultimately, it’s the start of yet another exploration and evolution in style; it’s too early to tell if there are any commercial applications (most clients want everything pixel-perfect, hyperrealistic and tack sharp) but perhaps there is some potential for the corporate documentary work I’m increasingly doing more of; especially in situations where clients don’t want to single out individuals (or pay for model rights). Enjoy the images; some of you may recognize a few from the How To See Ep.2 Tokyo and Street Photography videos. MT

This series was shot with an Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic 12-32/3.5-5.6 pancake, and a Ricoh GR.

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New York deja vu

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A voluntary pause

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An enforced pause

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Gawk and work simultaneously

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Day in, day out

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Even the food has places to go, people to see

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We are not Egyptian

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You are in my way. Please.

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Minding the gap

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Free space is a luxury

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Portal I


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  1. Per Magnussen says:

    I love these pictures. “Leaving” is pure poetry. . The colours, the movement, the distance…very good.

  2. Awesome work. Had to look up Saul Leiter – how’d I miss him? Thought these quotes were great:

    “I must admit that I am not a member of the ugly school. I have a great regard for certain notions of beauty even though to some it is an old fashioned idea. Some photographers think that by taking pictures of human misery, they are addressing a serious problem. I do not think that misery is more profound than happiness.”[2]
    “In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined. One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.”[2]

  3. Great set. Great colours!

  4. jorge Balarin says:

    Thank you for the very nice photos.

  5. Loving your work as usual. Especially the first one and “You are in my way. Please.” Those red taxi cars do seem to be quite photogenic 😀

  6. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “Wall of people” and “We are not Egyptian” are very special.
    My other favouritres: “Leaving”, the two “… pause” and “Day in, day out”
    Also “Portal I”.

  7. Great post, and fantastic photos to go along with it. I have to say, my favorite is your “minding the gap” image. It jut resonates with me for some reason.

  8. I enjoyed these coloured images and your idea of combining movement or sense of movement in these captures. I like how it shows careful thought and process, the style, something that is often missed in the photo creation process I believe.

  9. Great set, Ming, especially the “Pause” photos. This work reminds me a lot of Lou Stettner’s work in NY from the 50’s through the 90’s, but in color. And, if you are taking an interest in Leiter’s work, have you also had a look at any of Ernst Haas’ work, or that of one of his former assistants, Todd Weinstein? I think that you would have an appreciation for their work. Looking forward to seeing more of your color work.


    • Thank you – I haven’t seen Haas or Weinstein, but I’m going to look them up now…

      • Ernst Haas was a pioneer in color work. His B/W work is also fantastic, but he is best known for pushing color in the late 50’s and early 60’s. “Creation” is one of his most famous color books. I suggest spending a few minutes at the website that is run by the Haas Foundation. His quotes are as interesting as his work. He was an early member of Magnum, and was friends with many of the founders.

        Todd Weinstein is a NY-based photographer who worked as an assistant to Haas in his early years. His work these days is mostly in NY, Germany and Israel. His portfolio has a lot of his early personal work which he termed “personal journalism”. More recently, he has been doing more abstract color work. In the early 1990’s, Todd was selected by Canon to shoot one of their annual calendars. The work was all shot in NYC, and makes great use of color.


        • I’m there right now, actually. Turns out he was the fourth president of Magnum, too. Some stunning stuff – he really did know how to use motion…

          • “Color Photography” is the popular work. But also check out is B/W work. And when you get a B/W bug, also check out Stettner’s work. “Wisdom Cries Out in the Streets” and “New York 1950’s-1990’s” are also among my very favorite books. Truly inspirational works for me.


  10. Practicers of performing arts know very well that not moving is moving. The “pause” images convey this state of movement very well. The last image, for example, has much less movement.

  11. I really like this set of images. Very inspiring.
    Do you use the Ricoh GR just like it is? Or do you have an external viewfinder?

    • I use it as it is. I’ve wanted to use a Voigtlander 28/35 mini finder with it – stupidly sold mine some time back – but only just managed to find another one…

  12. Kathleen says:

    Colorful, clean, with more than a hint of fun and spontaneity! Tokyo seems perfect for contrasting elements of energy and stasis. I am imagining that to create these images required both patience and moments of action. Excellent examples of pedestrians moving faster than traffic!

  13. Another vote for the Taxi image from me. I especially like the partial framing of the taxi, I really struggle with that and would probably have included the whole car and I think this is much better!

  14. The last shot – Portal 1 – looks incredibly familiar. Shinjuku station or Shibuya station area? I remember getting a very similar shot last time I was there.

    Which reminds me…got to find an excuse to go back 🙂

    • Shinjuku station – the exit near the camera stores…you may also have seen it in the HTS 2 Tokyo video.

      Silly question, but why does anybody need an excuse to go to Japan? 😀

      • No excuse needed, definitely near the top of my list to go. Just need the budget…for day-to-day living ( not cheap, I’ve been told 😉 ) and a nice big slush fund for, er, “hobby spending” – which I think is more what my wife is concerned about. 😉

        • Actually, daily expenses aren’t that bad if you avoid the tourist traps. Department store supermarket basements are great places to eat – cheap and with variety, especially once they start clearing out the made-fresh stuff after about 7pm. I honestly didn’t find it that much worse than Kuala Lumpur, and nowhere near as bad as Singapore or NYC…

          • Nowhere near as bad as Singapore? With which I am very familiar indeed! (Sigh- used to seem so affordable once upon a time.)
            And my wife will travel anywhere for good food, even if it means 4 days of food courts to 1day of extravagance , 😉
            Thanks Ming. Moved closer to the top of my list now. 🙂

  15. Very nice! I was just recently in Tokyo, and your pictures are a good refresher of my memory.

  16. The first two imagtes are having a very large impact on me. I like the abstraction and subversion of expectations. Trains, Toyota and Taxi’s – which are probably Toyotas in the first one. And wall of people with the still cars and the moving people.

  17. Excellent Set Ming! Wall of People has a very special touch to it. It has a very fine art feel to it.

    • Thanks – that’s the direction I’m going these days…a little more abstraction, a little more of the idea and certainly more to keep the audience thinking…

  18. Consciously taking on a stylistic change can be liberating and challenging. As you said, slipping back into ingrained habits is something that might be done with no thought whatsoever. But…your image “A voluntary Pause” is evocative of so many possibilities. It has real emotional content. It is familiar, yet the occupants are not. Their body language is interesting, as is the perspective, framing, and mood lighting. Although no real motion is implied…the absence of motion is really what makes this image work perfectly. I was never a fan of Hopper’s paintings, until I saw them up close.
    Well done, Ming. Well done.

  19. Natsukashi. Reminds me of my own time living in Tokyo. Great images. Thank you.

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