Photoessay: Tokyo architecture

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Buildings, architecture and abstract geometry are amongst my favourite subjects. Actually, I got that back to front: the idea of abstraction and deconstruction of composition into considerations of pure colour and form is probably the underlying linkage between all of my images. As a result, buildings and architecture rank high on my list of preferred subjects because they are very conducive for doing just that: they’re static, so you can take your time with the composition; they reflect their environments – or not – and change in personality as changing light plays off different surfaces and textures in different ways; finally, there are always interesting details incorporate into the structures which are a reflection of their architects; much as a photograph is a reflection of the photographer.

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Tokyo is an incredibly rich hunting ground for architectural work: not only does the country have money for interesting buildings that have features beyond the bare necessities, but they’re well-designed, mostly sensitively incorporated into their environments and well…just different. That difference makes life interesting; it also doesn’t do any harm that for the most part, you can photograph pretty much anything you wish, with a tripod, and you won’t get chased away by security. This of course allows one’s photography to take on a much slower, more meditative aspect; in this case, almost all of the images in this set were shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, 2.8/80 or 4/150 lenses and the CFV-39 digital back, with a few thrown in from the Ricoh GR and 21mm converter – there isn’t anything that wide for the Hasselblad V system other than the SWC, whose lens doesn’t really play nice with digital backs anyway. I wouldn’t dream of doing this in say, New York or London…enjoy the set! MT

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  1. amazing architecture photography! =)

  2. Reblogged this on Mistrz i Małgorzata.

  3. I’ll believe you’re at the top of the architecture photo game when you’ve made a thought provoking shot of the “Golden Turd.” Game on!

  4. I love this set! Like you, it is also my favourite subject. I love your work Ming!

  5. Pritam Singh says:

    I like your photographs.

  6. Reblogged this on dimaswahyudhiantoro and commented:
    Photoessay: Tokyo architecture

  7. I love the final shot. Well done.

  8. I’ve never really been a fan of architectural photography… Until now. Inspiring.

    • Thanks!

    • plevyadophy says:

      Hey Matt,

      Welcome to the Ming Thein Conversion Club.

      I too was in the “I’ve never really been a fan of …..” club until I started following Ming; in my case it was not being a fan of watch photography. Ming has a way of making converts of many of us, and in my case he has also elevated my appreciation of food photography too.

      I wish you many happy years as member of the Club.


  9. 8, 11, 13, and 14 are the best for me. I’m a big fan of reflections, hence 13. and the lighting on 8 and 11 are really nice. 14 has the interesting property that it looks like it could be a shot of some horizontal structures instead of vertical ones. Very nice!

  10. Quentin Newark says:

    For those posters who think suspicious police is a “new” problem, read this about Robert Frank encountering serious trouble in 1955.
    How many of us could get out of jail by showing published work?

  11. Quentin Newark says:

    The lozenges is the Prada flagship store. Sandwiched between a wooden temple that has been rebuilt regularly for four hundred years, and a 1930s building covered in pale green tiles, and opposite the HQ of a theatre company in a brutalist concrete hulk. Tokyo is an architectural paradise. A contextual melange, no building relates to another. It’s as if all architectural approaches were all put in a bag, shaken up, and then placed around the city in random order.

  12. Wayne s says:

    Great set Ming!
    I really like #3, 4, and 13.
    That twisty building is incredible.
    #4 is an awesome composition, well seen!
    Looking forward to the Havana images.

  13. I like what you said about style:

    “the idea of abstraction and deconstruction of composition into considerations of pure colour and form is probably the underlying linkage between all of my images.”

    I have been thinking of something along this lines as a long term goal after watching EP-4 & 5 of your Making Outstanding Images series. You discuss something like this in EP-4 Part1 (which I recently re-watched).

  14. François Arbour says:

    Hi Ming.
    Great work. Is it possible to know which one was shot with the GR?

  15. Very good series. Love it!

  16. Hi Ming,
    I live in Tokyo, and it bugs the hell out of me that you can just show up for a few days a year and get all these great shots. That’s a good thing—makes me realize I need to get out more, to see more, and to attend your next Tokyo workshop.

    • We got lucky with the weather. And I’ve been perhaps seven times already.

      As for next Tokyo workshop – if there’s demand, maybe in winter…

  17. As always, great stuff Ming. Many thanks for taking the time to post these photos.

    Speculating about wide angle lenses: I wonder how the Monochrome with a Leica WA lens would have performed!


  18. plevyadophy says:

    A wonderful set with some sensational motifs. A joy to behold. You are one of the few people who speak my language when it comes to architectural shoots. The problem is, my vision is very similar to yours, but, as you know, I live in London where, as you aluded to, doing a shoot like the one you have published here would be VERY VERY difficult if not impossible (because of stupid police officers who know very little law and toy cop security guards who know even less and wanna make out that they are an important part of the nation’s defence).

    Thanks VERY much for sharing.

    • Thank you! Why would it be difficult with a smaller camera? I’ve never had issues shooting in London with the GR; add the 21 and it’d be a great combination for tis kind of thing.

      • plevyadophy says:

        A large cam in many of London’s tourist traps is fine.
        A so called “pro cam” or “pro looking” cam is problematic all over London.
        A small cam is the least bothersome but even small cams can attract overbearing attention from toy cop security guard wannabes, and unfortunatly from real cops who ought to know better (we have even had a campaign to by one of our MPs, Austin Mitchell I think it was, to stop this silliness and new guidelines had to be issued to the clueless cops)

        And if you are male and non-white your chances of attracting this over bearing attention increases VERY significantly (a FACT borne out by the police’s own data published each year, not that the victims of such racism needed the data (which really, is only of any benefit to the head in the clouds naysayers))

        And if you dare to whip out a tripod, then you really are asking for unwanted attention. Some idiot toy cop, or real cop with nothing better to do with his/her time, will challenge you and the challenge is usually some BS concern about terrorism. So let’s get this straight, I am a terrorist doing a recce, so I have a large bag, a largish cam, and I have setup a tripod thus I am standing out like a sore thumb, and I am doing all that in preference to doing my terrorist recce via Google Maps and from the comfort of a chair at home? Yeah, right!!!

        The strange thing is, the IRA were at war with the U.K. government for like 50 years and yet we had none of this silliness.

        Myself, I have been challenged by a bone idle cop in my local park for no other reason than the fact that I had a cam and was making images.

        Anyway, keep up the good work with those awesome images; you might just inspire me to get out more and shoot in spite of the silliness I will encounter.

        • Perhaps I get away with it because I fit the stereotype of Asian tourist, whom everybody expects to be toting a huge camera…I can’t say I’ve ever been hassled other when I tried to take photos *inside* buildings.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Yes, I definitely think that has a part to play.

            And here’s another funny stereotype that works in your favour: there’s a feeling that every other man from the Far East is a martial arts exponent, so those bullying toy cops will often be a little bit more weary of approaching you for fear that they might get a flying kick to the head if you have been grumpy all day because your noodles were over-cooked. LOL! 🙂 Yes, it’s a stange world. There’s a rather infamous case of one of our country’s leading barristers, a QC and human rights lawyer,who also happens to be a Sikh, travelling to, of all places, the The European Court of Human Rights to present a case, being detained by racist pig cops/immiration officials because erm …………… well, he must be a terrorist right? After all, he wears a turban, and he has a beard, right?!!! The sweet irony. 🙂

            Yeah, photography has got really difficult of late. The other problematic area is photogaphing children. Nearly all of the great street photography portraits I have seen of children are from regions of the world other than Western Europe. We even have absurd situations where in shopping malls toy cops prevent grand-mothers from taking pics of their own little darlings.

            We also had a MAJOR campaign going on here in the U.K., but concentrated mostly in the big cities and towns, called “I am not a terrorist, I am a photographer”, where photographers wore that slogan emblazzoned across a T-shirt and then would go out en-masse to shoot in areas known for “security issues”, and like I said, this issue got so serious at one time recently that it resulted in debate in parliament. We still have regular problems with idiot cops, both real and toy, who don’t know the law and cause problems for photographers and hardly a month goes by without a photographer having to formally complain or sue the police because of unlawful intereference with a photogapher’s right to engage in their pastime, However, things have vastly improved compared to say two or three years ago, but then again, it had to improve because there was very little room for things to get worse given how bad things had become.

            • The backup option is me carrying my press pass…

              • plevyadophy says:

                Yes, that makes a BIG, HUGE difference but unfortunately still doesn’t make you immune to the silliness as stories abound of journos being set upon by police officers and even arrested. But yeah, if I had a press pass I would feel a LOT better; problems are reduced SUBSTANTIALLY.

                • I’ll continue the dumb Asian tourist routine then…

                  • plevyadophy says:

                    The dumb Asian tourist, who is a kung fu practitioner and also happens to have a press pass will do the trick mi thinks!! 🙂

                    Hey, with such a valuable profile, whilst in London, you could moonlight as a bodyguard-cum-chaperone for street and architectural photographers. 🙂 “no area too secure, no photographer too suspicious with MT Photo Escorts”, how about that for a slogan?!! 🙂

                    • Errr…why would I do that when I could simply take the photos myself?

                    • plevyadophy says:

                      Ming, Ming, Ming, think about it.

                      Who’s paying you for doing a lot of these superb images that adorn your site? No-one,right?

                      Well, you could go out, do your stuff and at da same time have a group of ten or so cowards like me pay you protection money. So that way you’ll be getting paid a lot more of the time. 🙂 And we cowards would be able to do our thang unmolested by toy cops, real cops and overly concerned parents. A win win situation. 🙂 So erm, when can I sign up? 🙂

  19. Paul Stokes says:

    The architecture was the first thing that captured my photographic attention when I started going to Japan. The Japanese seem unafraid to experiment. They are perhaps not encumbered by the long traditions of European architecture that seems to inform the aesthetic of most modern architecture in western countries. Certainly there are many exemplary examples in every country, but no one appears to have as much consistently interesting architecture as Japan. This is true of both commercial and domestic architecture. I like number 9, which captures the grace and elegance of some Japanese architecture and number 10 with what appears to be New England weatherboard house next to a glass and steel structure. An intriguing juxtaposition of styles in the image, as is number 17, which I believe features the Tokyo Railway station. The Prada building is great and I like the Cocoon building around in Shinjuku.

    I agree with you that in many situations the Japanese are remarkably tolerant. I spent some time in the upper reaches of the Kyoto railway station photographing and when I saw anyone they just looked at my camera, nodded and went on. On the other hand there were occasions during the Autumnal colours last year when I was glad I was carrying the EM-5.

    • I think beyond that, they’ve also got the money to spend on design that goes beyond facade decoration into serious structural deformities. They like to create icons and unique buildings – I wonder if it has something to do with the desire to be individual in the face of enormous other ‘competition’…

  20. Number 8 is a flat out classic. I love that little diagonal beam of light.

    I see that you can’t resist that “bendy” building in Ginza any more than I can 🙂

    • Thanks – yes, the twisted building is pretty awesome. Love the way the light plays off it; can’t imagine what the internal space is like, though.

  21. Kristian Wannebo says:

    All nice, but there is something special about some of them … making them grow on me.

    Nr. 4 : It’s so harmonious.
    Nr. 7 : The shapes really come into their own.
    Nr. 10 : When colour and contrast play so together!
    Nr:s 8 and 13 speak for themselves.

  22. Lawrence Cheong says:

    Ming, nice photos!!!

  23. Nice photos, as usual, although I am a little surprised. It looks like the 2nd photo and the third from the last have lots of moire. Am I mistaken? If not, what gives? This is not a criticism. Just curious.

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