Photoessay: Saul and Edward

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As a very much non-American, Chicago tends to evoke a few things in my imagination every time I visit: gangster hits in back alleys with fire escape stairs and Art Deco building rear entrances; Ayn Rand’s The FountainheadEdward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting (which coincidentally is in the Art Institute of Chicago, though I’ve not seen it in person), and to a lesser extent, Saul Leiter’s splashes of color sandwiched between glass. I suppose it must be curious to a local which of the many cultural references make it across the international divide, and how few of them are sporting…

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At the risk of attracting flying bricks for claiming the influence of any of these things, I present this set of images in two parts: the first, where abstract color blocking was the dominant game – it worked because the weather and light conditions were conducive, and I was seeing it everywhere. The second, where the light fell a little and I started to rely on artificial light to see things through because daylight was just plain flat. There’s also a bit of a transition point between them – I think it sits somewhere between the smoking man and the red figure in the window. I’m not quite sure what these days in Chicago did exactly, 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 kept at bay from this series. Perhaps it’s best to view this as a work in progress, then. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q, Sony A7RII, Zeiss Batis 1.8/85, Zeiss FE 1.8/55, Nikon D810 and Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 APO Distagon. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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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. Andrew Franta says:

    Amazing images! Thank you.

  2. Hey Ming — wow. Articles like this are why this is the best photography site on the web. Many have noticed the Hopper vibe coming through some of the shots (the last one is phenomenal). I also see some similarities to painter Richard Estes’ work (like Hopper, but hyper realistic in his painting technique).

    • Thanks – I suppose it’s one of the few that still puts photographs before equipment 🙂

      Wasn’t aware of Estes – thanks for the tip, I’m going to have try and track down some of his work in person to view…

  3. On another track, what ever happened to that guy ( can’t remember his name ) from Hong Kong ( I think ) who used to write very lengthy responses to threads? Anyone remember him? I’m trying to jiggle your memories because it’s good for the brain.

  4. Martin Fritter says:

    Lovely set. You should get on the ‘L’ sometime and go exploring. Just take the Leica Q. Tamarkan can give you some tips.

    You also must spend an afternoon at the Art Institute. Especially the new Post-WWII wing, which is a life-changer. There are excellent views of Millenium Park from inside and photographers have free reign throughout.

  5. Ming, great, great pictures. Very inspiring. I like what you do but this set is outstanding.

  6. I can relate to the special feelings Chicago invokes in you. I always liked it more than New York.

  7. Michael Waldron says:

    Nice work. You could check out Ray Metzger who did Chicago photos, but I love his Italian landscapes.

  8. Really wonderful set, Ming. Very inspired and inspiring!

  9. Is the orientation of the third image a deliberate attempt to mess with human perception?

  10. Hi Ming

    Curious as to why three different bodies were used in bring this set together? Was it really a mood/feel thing each day or time you went out?


    • I always shoot with two bodies, both for backup and so I can have a wide on one and a tele on the other. Also because the wide body is generally the ‘quick grab documentary camera’ and this is usually not the same with the other longer lens-body, which is set up for slow work. The Q was my wide solution, except when I was testing the Otus 28 at the time, which is so large it does not balance comfortably on the A7RII – hence the D810.

  11. Kind of reminds me of the great Ernst Haas! He would have loved digital.

    • I think any serious photography would eventually figure out the best tools in the medium for them and go from there – it’s because if you are putting the creation of images first, then it becomes impossible to ignore any way of making better images, period. It’s the same reason I still attempt the masochism of cameras like the Sony from time to time etc…

  12. Gorgeous images Ming. They have a really special vibe imho.

  13. Another lovely set; personally particularly enjoyed A1 and C6! Thank you very much for sharing these.

  14. Mike Stewart says:

    Just watched “In No Great Hurry” & A2 jumped out at me immediately. Inspiring set Ming, bravo!

  15. Rosa Michaels says:

    Just beautiful !
    Leitner photographed in NYC AFAIK .

  16. Yes definitely Hopper-esque – great work.

  17. A2, B2, C1, and C6 are my favorites of the set Ming. Marvelous captures and conceptually they will dress your ‘Idea of Man’ perfectly well.

  18. I’ve forgot the name of the artist but saw Edward Hoppers paintings before. It happened not just once that I saw an image from you that reminded me of that distinct look he created.
    Thanks for sharing.

  19. Lady in red + the last one are exceptional

    • The next-to-last photo in this post shows poor colour management or transmission. The five bars on the right of the “Adams/Wabash” sign should have the same colours (in same order) that are named immediately below. But pink and orange appear indistingishable, and purple has turned to a mushy gray-black.

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