Photoessay: From the streets of Kuala Lumpur, part 57

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Reminiscences of the last supper

I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve posted images from KL. It might be 56 or 30 or 128. I don’t think it matters, anyway. I find quality of vision, and the ability to see, follows a bit of a camel hump: you need some time in a place in order to not be surprised and enraptured by every little thing that breaks your version of normality; a little objectivity and distance helps with quality. A bit more time, and you’re comfortable enough to explore, and have found things off the beaten path to the casual visitor; too much time and you’re jaded. The bigger the city, the longer this takes; but for a relatively small metropolis like the one I live in, that’s not very long at all.

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I’ve lived and shot in Kuala Lumpur now for the better part of nine years; the concept of home is still a vague one to me as I’ve lived in so many places I consider myself of everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. This is probably about as close as it gets; it feels comfortable, familiar. Photographically, I think I’ve passed the point of being familiar, then jaded, finding a second and subsequently third wind; there are days when the city feels like it no longer holds anything of visual interest, and then there are those other days when the sun comes out, Magritte himself painted the sky, and the quality of light is simply magical. Any and every subject becomes arresting, even to somebody who’s most certainly seen it all before.

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Because cones do not self-levitate

Those days, however, are rare. And finding inspiration becomes an uphill battle. It’s one I constantly fight because I firmly believe two things: if you can find new, great images in a place that’s both familiar and with ever tightening standards, then it keeps you sharp and on top of your game. Secondly, revisiting the same material results in either of two things: you giving up, or finding both new subject matter and a new style in which to present it. I suppose it’s like the playing the creative equivalent of Russian roulette in a way…

This series was shot with a mixture of equipment over the last few months – everything from an old Olympus E-1, to the Ricoh GR, D800E and Zeiss Otus…MT

If you’d like to learn more about how to create great images in black and white, the latest Monochrome Masterclass workshop video might be of interest…

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Everybody has a clone. Sometimes we think we see them.

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Our hominid past is closer than we think

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Nobody is working I

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Nobody is working II

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Lean I

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Beginning the getaway

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Lean II

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Urban salute

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Breaking the geometry

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Urban ribcage of a giant

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Are they looking at him or me?

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The serious man

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Limited edition Ultraprints of these images and others are available from For more street photography technique, have a look at the S1: Street Photography workshop video, and this post.


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


  1. Pritam Singh says:

    Is the first photograph in the series taken in the KLCC area? It has a familiar feel, though I have never seen the water look so still and serene. The fountains are always doing their thing.

    Very nice black and white photographs, thanks for sharing.

  2. Ming,

    Love Illuminatus and Freedom. The composition of freedom with the other table in the background is very well thought out, nicely done! How long did you have to wait to get the right person in the right spot without other people around for the Illiminatus shot? I would think on a busy street that you had to be there a while!

    Enjoying your work,

    • Actually, the problem was too many people – getting a single non-occluded person was tricky. Perhaps 10 minutes? That’s not bad in the grand scheme of things though, an hour is about the limit before I run out of patience…

  3. i have never been there but it looks good for sure.

  4. Some great street photography . . . with very interesting people in them. So much for that issue. As usual, I prefer the ones with people in them. I struggle with how to handle B&W images that naturally have substantial dark areas (shadows) that can easily be “lit up.” You have decided not to do that with some of your photos, which I find somewhat encouraging to me to “enlighten up” myself and not be so quick to shy away from shadows that are actually there to begin with, not a function of poor exposure overall. I always seemed to have missed Malaysia in my visits to Asia, so to me it’s still very unusual and desirable place to photograph. I too have a nice park and lake near my house where I’ve taken many photographs. Familiarity makes it hard, but I can usually come back with one or two “new” ones. What bothers me the most are the fishermen (hardly ever women), usually 1 or 2 to a small boat, often in great morning light. The only problem is that they are always wearing American style baseball hats. Ruined. With the same scene in say Malaysia I would be enchanted and fire away. It always makes me realize that if you or anyone from Malaysia visited they would fire away at the quaint American fishermen in the nice baseball hats. I worries me a lot when I see those same baseball hats in other countries for this reason. Or the kids in Venice who were wearing Nike shoes just like the ones in my neighborhood. Why can’t they go barefoot! It’s tempting to pay them to take off their shoes and go back to football/soccer game for a few minutes. I certainly cannot go back to 1950/60. Finally, I had to laugh at the (correct) title, “Nobody is working I”, because I think one of those workman would be justified in using the same title of his photograph of you sitting back staring at your computer screen. Not working?

    Keep sending more examples of your work from Malaysia. It’s all very interesting to most of us. (And I lived in Hawaii for 10 years.)

    • Thank you. Darkness is mood and mystery…so why not leave it?

      There’s nothing wrong with shooting a cliche: just don’t make it look like a cliche 🙂

  5. Carlos Esteban says:

    Several were shot with E1? The 4/3 one? For real, not surprised about results (glad to see) but about it’s longevity.

  6. Ron Scubadiver says:

    This is the kind of stuff I really like. I agree it is much harder to do meaningful photography at home because things become too familiar. They say familiarity breeds contempt. You may have noticed I do pictures of pretty girls on the street a lot, too. Until last week there was a legal cloud over such images where I live because a law intended to stop up-skirt photography was written so broadly that it potentially applied to any street shot of an attractive person. It carried a 2 year prison term, per image, and was a registration required sex offense. Last week a state appeals court invalidated the law for interfering with freedom of speech.

    • Thanks Ron. It seems that photographs of attractive people are rather remote from upskirts, but hey…I don’t suppose that’s easy to put in a legal context. Still, look at Hungary: I will never visit Budapest now (as much as I want to) thanks to their draconian anti-photography laws.

      • Ron Scubadiver says:

        Ming, photos of attractive people don’t belong in the same context as upskirts, but the Texas legislature managed to pass a bad law which accomplished that. The Texas courts (after years of uncertainty) finally told the legislators to do a better job next time. There are people who are worried about having pictures of their children taken by people with weird ideas. It is probably impossible within the context of US law to criminalize that. The court pretty much said anyone in a public place is fair game. Any future law is going to have to be very specific. Search for Texas Improper Photography, for details.

  7. It’s a pleasant series. Illuminatus, nobody is working, reminiscence, lean II particularly strike me. But the caption of hominid past –

    I’ve been traveling in a region which for me generates no interest at all in capturing images. Or should I say, the place seems to assertively suppress desire to capture images. There probably are some to be found but for me it feels like a visual desert. It’s not a place I’ve been very long but even so. Have you ever experienced such a place yourself, that is, one that seems to dis-inspire?

    • Thank you – that sounds painful, though. Visual desert? I’ve experienced fairly few of those, but they definitely exist. In such cases, try going out at twilight…

  8. Carlos El Sabio says:

    The photos are wonderful. The captions are the icing on the cake. I am always disappointed when there is no caption. Obviously your imagination and creativity go well beyond just the making of great pictures.

  9. Very, very beautiful set, congrats!

  10. Very nice series of B&W’s.

    I think you touch a very essential problem being ‘uninspired’ by the environment you are living in. How often I stroll through my town having a camera slung around the neck and coming home without one single shot. I can’t see even one worthy scene to shoot.
    It is even worse since there’s not any interesting landscapes or object either within miles and more.
    At first I bought a macro lens to kind of excluding the boresome surroundings and zoom into a far more interesting world. That worked for a while but got parked due to visions about shooting great architecture. Perhaps it’s time to culture the macro world again? That’s such a challenging theme to get to work!
    Second what works for me straight out of the road is traveling. Traveling without any other purpose than just seeing, shooting and enjoy. OK I am just begun all this since my interest for photography were reborn this very spring. But traveling is an essential necessity for me to get some light burned onto my flash card. But what then in between the trips? Well then there are all the nice hours spent curating and PP’ing the chosen ones.
    Ming, it is very comforting to know why others also may experience the hills and valleys affecting ones shooting frequency such as I do.

    • Thanks Gerner. I suppose there’s a good chance it might come across as an excuse, but when you’ve used the same town to find inspiration, review god knows how many pieces of gear (I was a magazine editor in a previous life, and my guesstimate count is somewhere around 200+ at the moment)…it’s tricky.

      Yes, travel is definitely a good way out: every time I go to a new place, or even one I don’t see that often, I’m seeing plenty. And then curating even more 🙂

  11. Ansel Adams visited Yosemite a few times… 😉
    Seems your vision is evolving even if the place is not.

    BTW – how did you meter for Illuminatus? Did you take an intuitive guess, or did you manage to spot meter the gap? I’m presuming this was a “prey” shot, i.e. you composed and waited for the right subject to walk into the frame (?), but she is several stops above the rest the of the scene it seems.

  12. Really Great shots..

  13. Some truly fantastic images here.

    These remind me of why we take photographs – why writers put words to paper – or artists brush to canvas –

    An inspiring collection.

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