Photoessay: Urban isolation

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The big C

Today’s photoessay is not quite varied Idea of man so much as man overwhelmed – we construct these grandiose environments for ourselves to use, but then land up almost being slave to them. It’s a slightly odd state of affairs in which I feel the human gets rendered somewhat irrelevant and overwhelmed. Who is the real master? Where did we lose control? MT

This series was shot in various places with various equipment (mostly a D810) and curated over a long period of time.

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Facing this strange world together

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What lies beneath?

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Fantastic Four

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The cleaning never ends

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Watering the concrete

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Do I no longer exist?

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Pride of place

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The C now

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Head for the human outpost

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Nature reclaims


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


  1. I have to admit that I did laugh a little bit about this concept, in that none of these buildings has the same immediate necessity as say, the futuristic society portrayed in the movies in which every person is mandatorily processed through such a building, whereas these buildings in the essay are only inhabited by choice for users, or maybe by the necessity for workers, but I would argue that nobody is a slave to this particular set of buildings. There is probably somebody who owns them who intends to profit from them by letting users and administrators facilitate transactions. My guess is that you are able to come and go from these buildings without charge, extracting the images, and then leaving without any obligation to those buildings.

    So, it’s similar to When I go to Las Vegas…. I go in knowing that every grandiose structure every building every business is there to extract money from me and that is it’s only purpose. Because I know that, I’m not a slave to it. I can choose to walk through it, take pictures, and then get in the car and leave for California without incurring any fees, especially if I choose to park several blocks be on the strip where I don’t need a parking garage. Or I could eat lunch, parking in a garage, see an attraction, have some drinks, and then stay the night, knowing the entire experience will be fun but the fees will be outrageous.

    Conversely, because I carry a mortgage, I am far more enslaved to my home :-).

    • No, but the workers are enslaved there simply because they have to pay said mortgages…you might have a choice not to go to your office, but then the bank has choice to repossess your home, too.

  2. ‘Head for the human outpost’ leapt off the page for me – a great shot.

  3. Love these images…

  4. The cleaning never ends… I guess my mum could identify with that

  5. Wow, “Head for the Human Outpost” is just staggeringly beautiful. Great essay, but that one left a great emotional impact for me.

  6. Super set Ming, one of my absolute favorites of yours. What lens/FL was the first photo shot with? One of the best photos I have seen all year.

  7. John Nicholson says:

    I suspect it’s all been said already, but then let me join the chorus. I really like these images both each for itself and as a very striking theme set. It’s an approach to buldings and structures that I try for, and i find your work very encouraging. Thank you.

  8. John Brady says:

    Wonderful set Ming. “The big C”, “Facing this strange world together”, “Fantastic Four”, “Head for the human outpost”, all make wonderful use of light and geometry. I’ve been working my way through your “Outstanding Images” videos and can only aspire to be this good!

  9. Wow, this could be among my favorite of urban image sets that you’ve presented to date. Very impressive and very enjoyable images. Thank you.

  10. Great set of pictures, Ming! Interesting also the ‘interaction’ between photo and title. Sometimes I get ‘distracted’ by the title, or rather: drawn into a certain atmosphere. Once I let go of that – by trying to come up with ‘my title’ – some photos convey a different sentiment. Still very convincing, though! My favorite: “Do I no longer exist?”

  11. Ulfie cat says:

    You captured this urban sterility very well–minimalist architecture devoid of feelings except for cool or cold. The only image countering this is “Nature reclaims.” It feels warm and alive … well, because it hasn’t excluded Mother Nature.

  12. very nice series of pictures. This website apart from some others (like Luminous Landscape) is really inspiring!

    • Thanks. Luminous Landscape’s recent diversion into the philosophy of photography only started recently – a couple of years after I did it…

  13. nice set, sifu, and mostly shot in good ol kl.
    so much interesting architecture to be discovered within kl.
    i do admit some of them are unfamiliar to me if you had not disclosed them.
    if i may ask, how long does it typically takes you to get a set like this together?
    regards, ken

  14. Kristian Wannebo says:

    A very poignant series, I think, and very much to the point!

    Quite a few of these make me think of some of Giacometti’s sculptures.

    ( But I like to reassure myself by looking at (pictures of) his cat, “Le Chat”.)

  15. Hey Ming,

    Another great set. I have a broad question for you. For series like these, did you set out to take photographs with this theme in mind? Did you take a few of these with the ideas for the individual photographs and then decide to pursue more shots with similar ideas and develop that into a thematic set? Or something else?

    I’m really curious because I find that often I “see” similar themes in my photographs when I go back through my archives that I may not have initially (consciously) noticed. Then when I decide to group them, the overall impact of the series clearly outpaces the sum of the impact of the photos individually.


  16. Lovely atmosphere in all of them, as usual. I noticed that the first pair were monochrome but then there’s some limited color. How do you decide when a photo should be in color or monochrome? Do you duplicate the same RAW file in monochrome and compare with the color version (I’ll confess I do that all the time and cheat)?

    Monochrome of “Institutionalized” would not have the same impact. That particularly awful shade of green-white needs to be witnessed in all its awfulness. My wife’s an interior designer (not decorator!) and she’s taught me a great deal about the amount (or lack) of thought that goes into the appearence and aestetics of where we work. I’m sending this to her for us to talk about what she thinks.

    My favorite is “Do I No Longer Exist?” It’s spooky!

  17. I like “Institutionalized.” How do facility managers come up with colors like that? (Surely there was a committee involved.) Yeesh.

  18. Rich Southgate says:

    A wonderful set of images Ming, some of your best of this genre so far. Beautifully processed too. Great stuff!

  19. Love them all, and “Juliet” the most! Fantastic composition and tones, plus great food for imagination! The building looks beautiful, and I wonder who that woman is and what goes on in her life.

  20. Holy cow Ming, what a wonderful series of well composed and timed photographs. Those images get’s a big wow from me. Love the theme about us humans inside and around our architecture. Architecture alone may of course be exciting on its own terms, but with people inside the geometry both are set into relation with each other.
    Images like these stands in juxtaposition to people photographed in lonely places, such as *Fog in Vienna*. I confess I have an affair with the idea of ‘isolation’ of man.

    • Thanks Gerner – they are all explorations (and perhaps more lonely ones) around the Idea of Man theme…

      • This is what I like so much. Individuals in geometry reads a so much stronger message compared to crowds and confusion. Well, guess I don’t like to shoot fuzzy scenes 🙂

  21. I totally agree with Grant’s observation. I don’t usually comment on images but these are really good! t would be nice to have a list of where each was shot? I think I know where “The C now” was shot, btw, but that’s the only one.

    • In order from first to last:

      Central Plaza, Singapore
      KLCC Convention Center, Kuala Lumpur
      ION Orchard MRT, Singapore
      Menara MRCB, Kuala Lumpur
      Menara MRCB, Kuala Lumpur
      Menara KH helipad, Kuala Lumpur
      Menara Boustead, Kuala Lumpur
      Suria KLCC/ Dewan Filharmonik entrance, Kuala Lumpur
      Menara ING, Kuala Lumpur
      Outside the Bar Council building, Kuala Lumpur
      Menara ING, Kuala Lumpur
      ISTAC, Kuala Lumpur
      Mong Kok, Hong Kong

  22. “The big c” immediately made me think of Stonehenge. And I think that’s about when we started getting overwhelmed by human structures. 😉
    Some very nice, atmospheric, pictures in this set.

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