The Idea of Man, a virtual exhibition

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Welcome to The Idea of Man – a virtual exhibition, for all of you who are unable to visit the physical one at The Rangefinder Gallery in Chicago. It runs until 31 October 2015. I owe Dan Tamarkin of Tamarkin Camera a massive round of thanks for putting it all together and sharing his space – please drop by while it’s still up.

Here we go.

Note: for the benefit of those who prefer no captions, I’ve left them in only if you click through to the images on flickr. The narrative however, is important.

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The Idea of Man is a journey through life, broken up into several sections. It is a philosophical examination of the choices and existence of man through images and suggestions. There are no distinctly identifiable figures in any of the images for a reason: universality. The ‘man’ (or woman, of course) can be anybody – at any time.

I. We are born with choices: light, dark, grey, and possibility. We must confront the world and make a stand.

01_8B18533-8 gunslinger with nobody to fight copy

II. We work, we conform to the expectations of society and fulfil our small, defined place within the machine. It is somewhat bleak. The system is first and has a place for us.

02_M9P1_L1003919bw hidden danger copy

03_8A13479 workers' paradise copy

04_8B25314 seeking any company copy

05_LX100_1000158 the unseen labors copy

06_64Z3467 lost in the system copy

07_G001771 social misfit copy

08_M8_L1017820bw the scavenger copy

III. Thoughts of breakout, individuality and rebellion begin to rear their head. We wonder why we are doing what we are doing. We experience flashes of personality and question what it means to be human and what it means to be ‘me’; the concept of self develops.

09_8B23533 temptation of the other side copy

10_G009802 the idea of man copy

IV. We head back into society, but we do not feel comfortable with our place in the world. Things need to change; the role that has been given to us begins to become indefinite and uncertain. We are faced with choices. We no longer want to conform and we are forced to break out – but not too much.

11_G007774 the need to see over the next hill copy

12_RX100_DSC4074 the complicated landscape of thought copy

13_64Z4822 the illusion of individuality copy

14_M9P1_L1003670bw branded copy

15A0001636 lost in translation copy

V. We explore the meaning of self, our own needs and desires take color and personality, and dominate over the envrionment. The edges and our new roles and interactions are not yet well resolved, but they are getting there. Questions of identity are raised. We explore farther afield in a bid to seek answers.

16_8A15558 virtual banking copy

17_8B16768 thought bubble copy

18_64Z3264 peeping tom copy

19_8B17578 we are all tourists copy

20_64Z3207 eating your way out of the circle copy

VI. We find our individual identity and leave the cloak we wear into public at the door. We become ourselves.

21_G000654 closet identity copy

VII. We know our new identity, but we must persevere to fit in and find our niche, our community.

22_8B21424 no place for me copy

23_8B21474 who we really want to be-alter ego copy

VIII. The new horizons are endless. There are challenges. There are possibilities. There are even more choices. Behind the success lies a huge amount of work and sacrifice. But there is always hope, achievement and support – and to strive for that is what it means to be human.

24_8B05210 no real escape copy

25_8B06278 not always greener on the other side copy

26_8041831 only the clouds are truly free copy

27_7503044 endless possibilities of the imagination copy

Thank you for viewing. MT

Each image in this series is available in a limited edition of five 16×20″ Ultraprints, and three portfolio sets including all images – please send either myself or Dan Tamarkin an email if you would like to purchase one.


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


  1. This series touched me emotionally.
    And it let me pause and think.

    Thank you.

  2. Paul Huston says:

    Hello Ming,
    You are a great photographer and true artist. Your images and thoughts illuminate and ennoble our existence. Thank you so much for your inspiring work

  3. Stéphane Bosman says:

    Er… Ever heard of the exhibition called “The Family of Man”? Basically the same idea, presented in 1955 by Edward Steichen at the MoMA in New-York. The exhibition has found a permanent home at the castle of Clervaux in Luxembourg, Europe.

    • Yes, but it isn’t the same concept. I don’t single out the individual as an identifiable personality in any image; ‘The Family of Man’ is the opposite.

  4. Kristian Wannebo says:

    ( I’m late, only occasional i-net for several weeks.

    And then I needed some time to digest this.)

    Great photos!
    Much food for the eye, and for the mind!
    A great story!
    And I like your use of b/w colour.

  5. Eric Welch says:

    Wow. I felt like I was looking at a collect of Magnum photographers’ work from the 20th Century. The feeling I got seeing these photos was like looking at books by my favorites Herni Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Andre Kertesz, Eve Arnold…the list goes on and on. Such a great – subtle – eye. Many might not see just how good these are. Amazing work.

  6. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Ming!

  7. I just clicked through the images and just noticed the range of cameras you used. It’s pretty cool that you used so many different cameras from a Hasselblad and the 645Z down to the GX7 and GR. And the different types of lenses ranged as well. As somewhat of a gearhead, it’s just cool to see that a print from a compact can hang next to a medium format print in an exhibition. The “access” you give your readers into your gear, exif, insights, etc… well, it’s just not available from anywhere else. I just can’t thank you enough for all you do!!!

    • Thanks Bryan – EXIF data isn’t really that useful, but I do hope that it does prove that composition is really independent of the camera 🙂

      • Just the basics in exif (eg camera, lens, focal length, aperture) tells me a lot. For example, shooting with the GX7 tells me the photo may have been when you were testing the camera or not out photographing seriously but rather you were walking about and happened on a great scene with a smaller camera. Aperture tells me what depth of field you were looking for and also helps indicate your primary subject which was likely enhanced in post. And the focal length just adds to my knowledge of compression or added context on a wide and how you used it for, say, subject isolation; or how much depth of field was achieved given focal length/aperture combination. All of this information helps me to identify what settings achieve what affect and why I would choose it.

        • Hmm, I don’t agree. It can be extremely misleading, too: I don’t have a GX7*, nor have I ever used one, nor do I ever ‘not shoot seriously’ – I either shoot, or I don’t. The equipment choice is either dictated by test considerations as you point out, or because of my intention upfront. Aperture is misleading because with a smaller sensor, f2.8 is the same as f8 and may well have been for light control rather than DOF. And the resultant shutter speed/ISO combination may be intentional or auto/auto and just monitored…none of which can be discerned from the EXIF.

          And I’ll be the first person to admit sometimes I just get lucky. All I’m saying is don’t read too much into it 🙂

          *Coda: I had to look into the EXIF data myself here. This is a good example of why it’s misleading: I had to recode the LX100’s raw files as GX7 to get them to open in ACR before there was official support.

        • I do take the sensor size into consideration when reading the aperture as I shoot FF, m4/3, and APS-C. But I appreciate you making all of those points as it does change how I will look at EXIF. Thank you!

      • John Harvey says:

        Ming, great stuff. I’m truly inspired – Many of us are gear heads and find it difficult to separate the methodology from the mechanics and so therefore I must ask a few questions.

        Re:The GX7 (16MPs): Can you really get a quality ‘UltraPrint’ from this camera, let alone a ‘regular print’. Obviously you’ve done so, but I have a ask about its relative ability to other cameras you shot with to make your images. Is it a stretch or is it equal in terms of 16×20.

        If shooting with m4/3 is really not a big issue for quality printing, then I’d have to change my vote in the “On not being a photographer” segment. I viewed carrying the small sensor as carrying a ‘compromise’, close to, but not quite the iPhone. If it truly is equal, then we really have no excuse to carry something with all of the time and be able make usable prints.

        Thanks again

        • Thanks John. But hmm – you’re the second person to ask about a GX7; I had to go back and check. I’ve never handled one, let alone used one. That file was from an LX100 coded as a GX7 so I could open it in ACR before there was any official support. We used the Ultraprint process for that one, which helps with continuous tonality and minimising noticeable dithering, but it’s obvious resolution is quite a bit lower than the other cameras in the set.

          M4/3’s compromise isn’t so much resolution as pixel-level quality – acuity, dynamic range, color accuracy etc.

  8. Congratulations! Hope it was as successful as the photos are beautiful. Hoping that you’ll have an exhibit on the West Coast so I can view your work in person… perhaps the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles!

  9. Ming,
    Congratulations on the success of the exhibition and the huge turn-out you had. I was a pleasure to see these in person in Chicago. The prints were superb. Much enjoyed viewing the superb images, meeting so many passionate photographers and off course hanging out with you and the rest of the gang. Hope to repeat that experience!

    Now just imagine what you could achieve if you transcended the mundane and stopped trying to seem intellectual! 😀


  10. Congrats again Ming! Happy to have been able to catch it in the flesh. Looking at these images again after seeing the prints, the difference is all the more obvious. Especially with The Gunslinger, Idea of Man and Endless Possibilities of Imagination. Flickr and re-sized JPEGs remove most of the tonality and subtlety. But the difference is very noticeable with the rest too.

  11. Congratulations Ming! I’m glad I could make it to the exhibit in person to see the prints, too.

  12. Larry Kincaid says:

    A journey of 10,000 starts with one step. These are clearly some of your best photographs, so no need to remind us all of the importance of curation, editing, and portfolio creativity. I wouldn’t mind seeing this exhibit travel a bit more in the US while it and you are here. They are worth having a large audience. On the other hand, you do have a life somewhere else. The photos you display here should put to rest the recent (and somewhat valuable) debate over technique versus the human/emotional approach to photography. There’s a human figure or shadow in every photo in this thread. Okay, no lovers kissing on the bridge in Prague, even if you have some, but typically individuals alone who help create a mood of your choosing, along with the other elements of the image. Quite successfully. When this discussion was happening here, I couldn’t help but wonder how your professional and artistic work contrasts with your own family photos, which are very likely similar to everyone else’s. So, you do take those kind of photos too. Beside the point. What matters here and in your exhibit is what you are trying to create for yourself and then share with us and others. How else could it be? Congratulations. Bring it to New York or Washington, D.C.

    • Thanks Larry. It isn’t that simple, unfortunately – I need to have a cooperative gallery and it costs a fortune for me to travel to the US and be there while the exhibitions run; that just doesn’t make any sense economically. However, if somebody who’s already in the US would like to shop it around, I’d be extremely grateful…there is only so much one can accomplish from the other side of the (third) world.

      As for my family photos – well, different objectives and the human element is the focal point, but I wouldn’t say they’re much different from my other work. If anything, I think fairly representative as I experiment with what I don’t show…

  13. Kenny Younger says:

    So glad to have seen these in person, and meet you, Ming.

    I don’t think I told you that Friday night, but Not Always Greener and Alter Ego are my two favorites 🙂

  14. Peter Bendheim says:

    Thanks for this post Ming and many congrats on the exhibition. Glad to see you out there.

  15. Martin Fritter says:

    Very interesting to see the size of the prints and how they’re arranged in the gallery. You should really consider a photobook – I know, I’ve made the suggestion before, but you’re getting well enough known that it might break-even or turn a profit. You could even do a retrospective of your commercial product photography with editorial content for people in that line of work. I suspect you’re well known among the cognoscenti.

    • I can only hope so, but presumption tends to be the cause of a lot of failed businesses too 🙂

      • John Harvey says:

        Simple – PreOrders via kickstarter to minimize your risk.

        • A survey here much earlier didn’t even give me the required numbers. Given the commitment level from surveys has proven to be about 400% actual in the past, I don’t think kickstarter (or otherwise) would make any difference.

  16. I had the opprotunity to see the exhibition on it’s opening night and agian later that week in Chicago. It is a wonderful representation of Ming’s art and photographic style. I have some particular favourites from the set – the lone walker on the beach, the hanging coats and of course the final print above. Great work, brilliantly presented as always. Congratulations Ming!

  17. Len Harrison says:

    A superb collection of images.

  18. Wow, the photos and storyline is incredible, would have loved to see those for real! Good luck with the exhibition,

  19. Fab images! I particularly like the framing: what’s going in, what’s moving out and what is fully contained within. I think you were fortunate to be in San Marco without 96 gazillion other people there, too.

  20. Great photographs, every one! Congratulations!

  21. Ming,

    Thanks for posting the exhibit online. It is wonderful to revisit the imagery, though I have every intent of making it back to the gallery to see the images. I’ll also add that I appreciated not having much narrative guidance at the exhibit–the preamble at the gallery opening was enough to frame a mindset for viewing. It’s nice to come back and see your intentions, but not having them dictate my interpretation allowed me to take the images in as-they-are. The appropriate way to handle this probably varies from collection to collection. In this case, the stark guidance in the exhibit’s title, “The Idea of Man”, allowed me to superimpose or interweave my own experiences into the viewing of each print rather than look for yours.

    It’ll be interesting to see how my experience changes when I go back to the gallery to know the artist’s intent.

    For those of you viewing online, if you’re in Chicago, don’t miss the opportunity to see the exhibit. The fidelity of the printed images imparts an honesty that I rarely see in digital prints, and that I haven’t seen regularly since working with medium format negatives in the hands of masters. I now know the high water mark for digital image reproduction.

    It was nice to meet you Ming, and I hope we have a chance to chat longer sometime. And keep a visit to Oak Park in mind for your next trip to Chicago.

    • Thanks for coming down – and thank you for the alternate interpretation. It’s always tricky balancing the amount of guidance to give…

      See you next time!

  22. Very Inspiring! and a side note: I got my Workshop Video and absolutely love your simple but effective editing style..!

  23. Incredible set of images. Diverse in setting/people but united by the clear theme. Many, many strong and evocative images. It is really inspiring to see such a strongly curated set of images. Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment. Many thanks for sharing.

  24. To me many of the images work much better when presented together with the storyline. Perhaps I’m too lazy to ponder on the deeper meanings of stand-alone images, but it does strengthen the view (my personal opinion) that a good curated set usually says more than a thousand stand-alone photographs. Nice job, congratulations, and hopefully we’ll get to see more international exposure of your personal work in the future.

    • I agree – the intention was always to present them together, but I couldn’t do it until the narrative (with suitable images) was complete.

  25. some strange formatting going on for me – there’s a link under each pic that doesn’t work – //
    The pics themselves take you to flickr though.
    I like the ‘Jake the peg’ one.

  26. stephen li says:

    Congrat, Ming. hope you have a wonderful time in Chicago.

  27. I was hoping to get to see the show again and you granted my wish! Too bad a computer simulation looses so much in translation. At the same time – it is good to know reality still has its strengths!

    Well Done!

  28. Nick Coenen says:

    Wow. Taken as a whole, I think some of your best work I have seen to date. They really illustrate “The Idea of Man” in a compelling way. Very inviting – I found myself going back to look and look again. Some of the images have been posted before of course. So it is evident that they span a range of time and place. But they all share the same common thread – it must have been fun (and challenging) to determine which to include in the exhibit.

  29. Mundane photographs packaged up with some asinine rubbish to make the creator seem intellectual.

    • Just like this comment, except I’m not using anonymity to hide my mundane asinine rubbish. 🙂

    • Gerner Christensen says:

      Seems to me creator has a far more developed intellectual intelligence than you have. Well what the heart is full of … guess the rest.

  30. Congratulations, Ming, and thanks for sharing with us.
    I would have loved to see it in Chicago but I’m in another continent.
    It’s a superior gallery of images which already speak volumes and become even more relevant when paired with your words, which we know as genuine and true to your experience. And your experience is the one we all relate to but not everyone has your courage.

  31. wow these photos are seriously great ming. Any chance of converting them into a book – you have my pre order

    • Thanks. Usual problem with books: good quality and poor economics or a compromise and a lousy experience…in the end, I’d rather not do it.

  32. Nice work Ming, as always. Thoroughly curated, too. I’d love to visit the exhibition (but am stuck here in good old Germany)…Cheers!

  33. Congratulations Ming, Looks nicely curated from what I can tell from the photos. Great work!

  34. Thank you for sharing your brilliant work!

  35. Great set of images and narrative Ming! Some great Ming classics in there and ones with lots of mood. Well done!

  36. Beautiful set of photos, sifu, together with the narrative, they work so well to bring the story conceptt alive. Thanks.

  37. Gerner Christensen says:

    So good to see the images on the wall. Very nice presentation too. Some of these images are very precious to me since I was in the neighbourhood while they were taken.
    I hope for a great success Ming, you deserve it.

    • Thanks Gerner – and yes, I think you’ll remember some of these (Ian, too 🙂

      • Me? No….don’t recognise any of ’em… 😉 Wonderful set Ming. Is there going to be a post on your experience with your exhibitions this year? I hope they bring you all the recognition you deserve.

        • 🙂

          Probably next year for that post – one more upcoming in December, which will be different again. Let’s see how I feel after that one…

  38. Excellent work Ming, and hearty congratulations, I have very much enjoyed meandering through these exquisite images.

  39. Nice, thank you

  40. Congratulations Ming. Well deserved. An amazing set of images. I enjoy each one. – Eric

  41. tunisiaxxx says:

    Hi Ming,
    Thanks so much for making this exhibit available online. It is quite strong, powerful, and beautiful. Forgive my gushing, but I found it great and only wish I could see it in person. Thanks again.

  42. Thank you. I enjoy viewing your vast repertoire of images and ideas.


  1. […] own narrative to things, and thus manage to satisfy a wider variety of audience expectations. In my previous work of this kind, I’ve always tried to provide some sort of serving suggestion for the narrative; in these sets, […]

  2. […] own narrative to things, and thus manage to satisfy a wider variety of audience expectations. In my previous work of this kind, I’ve always tried to provide some sort of serving suggestion for the narrative; in these […]

  3. […] 40-50 final selects). Those of you who’ve seen my earlier work will see shades of quadrants, Idea of man, wimmelbild and probably some hints of the previous negative-space-heavy photojournalistic style I […]

  4. […] or in focus, or the largest object in the frame; it merely has to be the most visually prominent. The Idea of Man series deliberately exploits this. On top of that, use of out of focus foregrounds in the cinematic […]

  5. […] pleased to announce my first exhibition for 2018, and the second instalment in the long-running Idea of Man project – part II premieres together with the opening of the Ilford Galerie in Kuala Lumpur, […]

  6. […] see this series as a somewhat looser development of the original Idea of Man; relaxed to fit the people and where possible, looking for natives rather than visitors – […]

  7. […] think of this set as Idea of Man, with inspiration by Saul Leiter. The whole thing comes together to be a little bit surreal, but […]

  8. […] or places surrounded by unseen/ unacknowledged history. It’s a bit more personal than idea of man because the images need the specific individuals to work, and somewhat different to the […]

  9. […] If I’d shot this a year or two earlier, it’d have probably been the title image for the ‘Idea of Man’; something radiates from an intensely purposeful and focused individual, who on top of that is […]

  10. […] words today, just a series of singles from Lisbon in the style of Idea of Man. It’s too late to put them into the first series because that now has a mature and complete […]

  11. […] my ongoing exploration of the Idea of Man theme in Lisbon has lead to a bit of a divergence – on one hand, we have the very social areas […]

  12. […] view The Idea of Man project as mostly complete; the story is tight and stylistically consistent. But I’ve been thinking a […]

  13. […] fall out of that which appeal to me in a much deeper way, and subsequently become projects – Idea of Man, or Forest, for instance. Of late, and perhaps because I feel the reflexive subjects are […]

  14. […] was in Chicago at the end of last year for my exhibition of the same name at the Rangefinder Gallery; what we showed was actually only 27 of the 70+ images […]

  15. […] was in Chicago at the end of last year for my exhibition of the same name at the Rangefinder Gallery; what we showed was actually only 27 of the 70+ images […]

  16. […] was in Chicago at the end of last year for my exhibition of the same name at the Rangefinder Gallery; what we showed was actually only 27 of the 70+ images […]

  17. […] but something definitely got rewired in the way I see structure and color and integrated into my Idea of Man structure – there were definitely some Magritte moments in there too, but those were mostly […]

  18. […] and fine art print sales Check. Three international ones (Connection in Hong Kong in June, The Idea of Man in Chicago in October and Un/natural in Hong Kong again in December) is nothing to sniff at, and I have a new […]

  19. […] I’m pleased to present my final exhibition of 2015: ‘Un/natural’, a joint show with one of my students – Stephen King*. It runs from 5 December 2015 to 9 January 2-16 at Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong. This follows ‘Connection’ at the Hong Kong Arts Center in June, and ‘The Idea of Man’ at the Rangefinder Gallery in Chicago last month in October. […]

  20. […] was recently in Chicago for the inauguration Ming Thein’s ‘Idea of Man’ Exhibition, (until Oct 30) at the Tamarkin Gallery. I decided to stay for the weekend to take in the sights […]

  21. […] Ming Thein has an exhibit at a gallery in Chicago. I’m not going there anytime soon, so I’ll have to settle for the exhibit in photoessay form. […]

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