Photoessay: Following the crowd

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Same same but different

Today’s photoessay is the precursor to isolation and the concept of man – to be the subject of a future photoessay. People seek each other’s company and now congregate in their individuality – no man is an island, and all that. This is an intermediate, transitory stage before people become deindividualized again: at the end, they flow like water. And like water, even though at the microscopic level there is discreteness, at the macro level, there isn’t. Perhaps it is inevitable because there’s simply not enough space; perhaps it’s inevitable because fundamentally, humans are social creatures and deep down, most of us need some sort of affirmation and acceptance. Remember, I did say some time ago that we photographers are really also philosophers as a consequence of the way we interpret, filter and re-present the world…MT

The making of a lot of these images, and the ones in the previous photoessay, were featured, deconstructed and explained in detail in How To See Episode 2: Tokyo and Street Photography Episode 1.

This set was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CF 2.8/80 and CF 4/150 lenses and the CFV-39 digital back.

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Rush I

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The expectation of the ages

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We all enjoy the same things

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Rush II

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Smile to say I was here

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James Dean rides again, or The Lone Ranger


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


  1. Larry Kincaid says:

    This strike me of the paradox of being an individual in a crowd, and perhaps just as important, individuals thinking that they are independent from others when in fact following the crowd. I remember asking undergraduates in a class after an election in the US if they entered the voting booth and voted their own mind independent of what others were doing. Almost everyone said yes. When I then asked if members of their family voted the same way, most said yes. Your friends? Most said yes. And you still think you voted independently, again almost a unanimous yes, but perhaps with a little more doubt in their minds. Then all you have to ask is why almost everyone (make and female) are wearing jeans to class (or slacks) intend of skirts or jump suits, and they again all say the it’s just what they like to wear personally. We are pack or clan animals who have developed various degrees of a belief in individualism over the last few centuries, more so in the West than in the East, but the East may be headed that way as well. We evolved as groups and thrive in groups, but quite conscious of being separate, sometimes isolated individuals. A paradox which is a great subject to explore with photography. There is still an unanswered question for me, however. Some photographs of the collectivities of people that Ming photographed appear to just happen to be near one another in the same place and time, while others seem to be obviously part of a group that are together for one reason or another. An in between state, I suppose would be a set of people in the first example in which some are quite aware of being with others, while others are oblivious to that fact. My thoughts. I applaud Ming for taking this on. The cross-cultural aspect of this is also very interesting. Paris versus Tokyo versus Melbourne versus the Amazon.

    • I think I’ve figured out the disconnect now. It’s the difference between observing it, being there, being able to communicate the separation visually – and having to augment it together with the explanatory text. Without this there is no way to really tell if the people are congregating by choice or there because they are choosing to be different to the mainstream – and in doing so, being the same as the rest seeking individuality.

  2. Reblogged this on Giai01's Blog and commented:

  3. Frans Moquette says:

    Hi ming. Individually all great images, except perhaps ‘Multiplicity’ which, to me, looks like an accidental double exposure. I don’t want to offend you, but that image just does not seem to have the ‘Ming touch’ to my eyes. As a series I feel there are some images that don’t belong. Overall I get the impression of people together by chance, doing their own thing, but not interacting. Two images do not fit the series IMHO. ‘We all enjoy the same things’ because it gives a different message and the last one because it is so different in style and does not send the message as strongly as the others. Just curious why you included the images in this series. Or am I misinterpreting the intended message?

    • Multiplicity is the result of a peculiar technical property of the Hasselblad V digital backs. It’s not controllable, but the effects can be interesting.

      The message is that causation of difference isn’t always obvious, planned or intuitive 😉

      • Frans Moquette says:

        Hi Ming. Combined with what you reply to Luke, I don’t understand what you mean by “causation of difference”. If you had said “causation of congregation” it would have made sense to me. As you explained to Luke, we try to be individuals but end up following the same paths. So, as I see it, we congregate in the same space by chance, but we do not really interact, we keep doing our own thing. So, to me, the message is “detached congregation” or “random congregation of individuals”. I see no interaction by *choice* in most of the images. The two images I mentioned before don’t give me that same message, which is why I feel they do not belong in the series. I suspect the reason Ansel says the portfolio lacks cohesion is related. So I am still curious about the reasoning behind the selection of images for this series

        • The choice is there – they choose to be different and so shun the mainstream, but in doing so they land up being drawn to the same places as other individuals who are doing exactly the same thing.

          • Frans Moquette says:

            Hi Ming. I don’t see the shunning of the mainstream, on the contrairy, to me, especially in the first picture, people seem to be choosing for the mainstream. But, even though they are together in the same space, they choose to avoid interaction (in most of the images). So maybe it is a cultural thing, you being Asian and me a European, that we interpret things differently. Which might also explain why I and Ansel say that the images, although great by themselves, as a *series* lack cohesion.

  4. luke_j__ says:

    I would go with not enough space.

    I live in one of the smaller and more sparsely populated capitals of Australia and it’s perceived as damn rude to linger/walk along side within (maybe) a metre and a half of a stranger. As you obviously know, go to London or South East Asia (more so) and it’s totally different. I think Malaysian (and especially Chinese) students have very different perceptions of personal space when they first immigrate to Australia (I work it retail so experience this first hand). So I think some of what you talk about above is the combination of non-Western population density combined with imported Western egotism. Or something like that.

    “…and now congregate in their individuality” <– what do you mean by this? On face value I would call it as an illogical sentence but you don't seem like an illogical guy.

    How did you make the one called multiplicity? It's really interesting. Double exposure?

    I really like the image of the woman taking the selfie too. Such an increasingly common sight. Your caption is very appropriate.

    Oh, I wanted to say thank you. For putting a couple of my images in the reader pool, for writing back on Instagram, for keeping this blog, and generally being really accessible when you must be really busy.


    • Congregate in individuality: you try to be different, but in doing so you land up following the same path as thousands before you, so in the end you land up together anyway: same shops, same hangouts, same hobbies…

      Multiplicity is what happens when you fire a CFV again before it’s done writing – it’s an artefact of the way the analog-digital interface between the Hasselblad V bodies and the digital backs works. The back is triggered by a pin on the body, and it determines maximum exposure time; the body controls the actual exposure time with the lens’ leaf shutter. I suspect the artefacts are a result of streaks from the mirror moving up and down…

  5. There are a couple good images (James Dean and maybe the first one) in here, but as a portfolio they lack cohesion for me. Do you think these images necessarily required captions?

    • I think the captions don’t hurt, but they should stand on their own. I’m curious, why do you think they lacked cohesion?

      • There’s just a very “jumpy” quality about the images to me – neither the locations, activities (what the people are doing), perspectives, or content really bind together to me in the form of a series. Some of them are very snapshoty, however I really like the last one (even though it doesn’t fit and ought to stand on its own).

        I also think this sort of photography lends itself to being “closer” and all of these seem voyeuristically far away and somewhat detached. I just went back and noticed your equipment choice and I guess it validates the touristy style you employed.

        Anyway, just one 112 year old photographer’s opinion, and you did ask…

        • No, I choose not to be in people’s faces because it’s rude, because it lacks context, and it focuses on the individual rather than the idea of a. In environment. I’ve already explained these choices many times in previous articles. And I’m perfectly capable of getting close if I need to.

  6. Simply amazing, as usual, Ming. Your photography never ceases to amaze me. The way you use light and color. Just breathtaking. How I so wish I could travel and take one of your classes! Your tech talk is over my head but I do read it and try to understand. I think it’s a good idea to do this because I find, over time, I actually start to understand. Nicely done! Love the philosophical viewpoints, too.

  7. Tripod based shots or hand-held? Great light, composition and colors as always.

  8. Sergey Landesman says:


  9. Kristian Wannebo says:

    I think the calmness of the photographer’s viewing – and framing – contrasts positively with the busy scenes and the movement of the people.
    Ming, is this your “Hasselblad experience”?

    With the full resolution, the face of the nearest woman in “We all enjoy the same things” will stay clear even with this width of context … to the envy of smaller sensors …

    ( That caption for the lovely black-and-green photo, nice afterthought! 🙂 )

    My favourites:
    “Same same but different”,
    “We all enjoy the same things”,
    “James Dean rides again, or The Lone Ranger”.
    Also “Untitled” and “Rush II”.

  10. You’re getting deeper and deeper, Ming. Great set! Love the HB work. May have to break down and try it out for a season. 🙂 Just a couple weeks more and Havana!

  11. Ming, I am very much enjoying this set from you. Thanks for sharing your humane geometric vision with us!

  12. Heads up to a 404 link error on Isolation in Tokyo Photoessay (/2014/04/08/photoessay-isolation-in-tokyo/)… Best regards…

  13. plevyadophy says:

    Second time I have seen that green and black shot, and I just LOVE it.

  14. Joelmusicman says:

    Getting a 404 error on your “yesterday” link. Which one was it?

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