Photoessay: Shells of glass

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The world is acquiring a sort of homogeneity. I see it when I travel, I see it in the city changing around me. But curiously the little things that used to give a place character – the things that sat silently in the background, like a style of roofing or a type of tile or even brickwork – are slowly giving way to these soulless edifices of concrete and glass. They are the pinnacle of big corporate anonymity: nobody knows what goes on inside, nobody knows who the real owners or the real powers that be are, and the organisation has no personable name or face. Much like the buildings they inhabit: they take on a chameleon-like character and merely reflect the world around them but offer no soul of their own. What goes on within is kept secret behind a mirror. Layers are hidden inside other layers with yet more layers within. Welcome to the fragile brave new world; it’s like walking on shells of glass. MT

This series was shot with various assorted hardware in several cities – from a Canon 5DSR to a D810 and Zeiss Otuses to an iPhone, but all processed with Photoshop Workflow II. _5R07231 copy

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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


  1. Tend to agree with you about the homogeneity of architecture. One city I have found interesting is Melbourne, Australia. I actually had to ask someone if there is an imperative there to build design award-winning buildings, quite unlike most medium or large cities.

  2. ooop! sorry sifu, forgot to mention great glass and set. like!!!
    regards, ken

  3. hi sifu,
    not just glass, brands too. not much difference stepping into a mall in kl, singapore, jakarta, hong kong, etc.
    such a monotonous shopping affair these days ;), what do you think?
    regards, ken

  4. Bruce Person says:

    First, I want to say how much I enjoy your photos and all the reflections of cities in Asia. Here in California, cities are not quite that way and to some extent show their age. Of course new buildings seem to be designed by younger architects which may be trained by the same universities (or at least are following what is popular). I live 200 miles north of San Francisco so we don’t see anything except seascapes and trees. From what I see where I live there is a tremendous difference between what you might see in your cities and I see in rural areas. Perhaps the difference is simply the man-made vs. what is naturally occurring (of which you also shoot). I’m a D810 shooter and I’m awaiting a 5DSr next week. I’ve had one before but I decided to send it back because I was disappointed with the noise and the more limited dynamic range. Most of what I do are 3 foot by 2 foot laminated prints so I’m search for fine color tones and I’ve been inspired by your use of Zeiss lenses. I love my Zeiss 21mm but I wish Zeiss made a tilt shift since they must be manual focus anyway, it seems like a natural for Zeiss.

  5. That reminds me. Loy Krathong is coming up in a months time, 24th of November.

    My first ever real effort at a low light shoot with a K-5IIs and a rather fabulous old Pentax-K 50/1.2 (shot wide open the whole time) and the 77/1.8 Limited.

    Loi Krathong XVIII
  6. Absolutely spot on text and wonderful if images (even if the homogeneity is saddening). I watched a similar transformation occur in the U.S.. In the early 1970s when I started travelling, the commercial retail scene had a distinct regional flavor. Twenty years later, it had all but fully homogenized and has completely done so now. Same retail stores selling the very same goods everywhere you go. And the move of those merchants across the globe is well underway. Where can you not find Starbucks or McDonalds?

    • Thanks Frank. I think the giants haven’t penetrated Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea and perhaps Vietnam…but that’s really about it, sadly.

  7. John Nicholson says:

    “The world is acquiring a sort of homogeneity.” – You are so right, and that makes it even more amazing the way you still draw out variety in your superb images. Thanks as always.

    • Thanks John – it’s getting harder to find the uniqueness though!

      • You should come to Lisbon or Porto, it’s a type of urban setting I haven’t seen in your portfolio. Porto is were I live and have shoot around a lot, its almost completely free of glass buildings. I’ve since became weary of it yet I’m really curious how you would “see” it.

        • It’s in the plan.

          And actually, there is plenty of that kind of setting in my work – Havana, Prague, Amsterdam all don’t have glass buildings. Have you seen the archives? 🙂

          • Ming, the antithesis of the “architecture” you describe would be the work of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona.
            Perhaps couple this with the bull run or the big tomato fight on a tour of Spain.

            UNESCO World Heritage sites . . .

          • Glad to hear it! Yes, actually as I was writing Havana did come to mind, but I forgot about Prague and Amsterdam. Anyway Porto sits somewhere between the three, perhaps closer to Prague than Havana or Amsterdam. A meandering medieval city plan with narrow plots, unlike Amsterdam or Havana there is no clear urban plan. The main difference to the three is the topography. Both Lisbon and Porto are spread over several hills and valleys (Lisbon downtown is spread over seven hills) with a very strong relation with the landscape. This is perhaps the most characteristic trait of Portuguese origin cities even abroad with Rio de Janeiro, Salvador da Bahia or Ouro Preto being the most iconic ones.
            Anyway, another place that it’s free of glass and I haven’t seen on your portfolio is Morocco. I really enjoyed shooting in Marrakech.

  8. Gerner Christensen says:

    I have always felt alienated being amongst these skyscrapers with all their glass facades. There’s a kind of ‘stay out’ or ‘stay in’ gestalt enveloped the way they are architectured, that makes me feel unwanted. Despite that I am fascinated by the artistic mosaicing patterns, lines and reflections .. in a way a photographic paradise.
    Love these images Ming, each and every one.

    • The reflection in the glass façades are just a constant reminder of my middle aged spread.

    • I feel it too, Gerner – they reflect the world around them but contribute almost no personality of their own. If you stand in a forest of these mirrored towers, it’s almost as though the whole thing is an illusion – I suppose that’s a good metaphor for a lot of big companies…

      I try not to think about it too much, because it can get depressing. Instead, I just focus on the light.

  9. It’s homogenised into McWorld. I drove into the local town up here in deepest rural north east Thailand last week, to go to the local independent builders merchant I go to when the house starts falling apart. Gone.

    However, obviously great progress has been made in the area of economic development as just a hundred metres down the road there now stands a brand new, gleaming, towering . . . KFC. It too has an expansive façade of shiny glass and that corporate semi-matte grey finish on the supporting cross members and stanchions. A drive by for closer inspection revealed a drive through (or “driv-thru”, in corpostasitrendytextspeak).

    No doubt this scrumptious thoroughfare will be rammed with rice farmers on their two wheel tractors desperate to get their chops around a Zinger Winger Dinger, or whatever they’re called.


  1. […] I spend the weekend shooting on both film and digital. Here’s an image I processed from Copley Place mall, made in the style of Ming Thein.  […]

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