Photoessay: The Idea of Man, Chicago, part II

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Continued from part I

I 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 from that series, curated from a further 10,000+ images over the course of many years of shooting. However, I’ve always thought of Idea of Man as an ongoing project; our interpretation of the philosophy of life is as dependent on ourselves as it is on whatever we happen to be observing. And there’s always a place to go or culture to experience that is foreign to us, and may well raise new questions over what is ‘normal’, ‘expected’, and ‘individual’. Thus, the show must go on.

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This and the next post are a continuation of that idea, refined further and shot in Chicago during the time I was there for the show. They’ve now had the benefit of several months of ‘sitting time’ to allow me to assess the longevity of idea and image. Part one is in monochrome. Part two is in color. You may spot some Magritte-esque images thanks to the quality of clouds and light. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a variety of equipment (Leica Q, Sony A7RII, Nikon D810, Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 APO) and processed with Photoshop Workflow II, or The Monochrome Masterclass. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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Bespoke Queenstown landscape and The Lisbon Masterclass (9-14 Mar 2016) are now open for booking


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. Totally love the first photo. The contrast of an empty window and then a window with a person stood there, highlighted by the red curve of the shade. The simple colours and contrasting lines really tell a story. Great shot.

  2. O.k. I’m officially hooked up on your photos now. Do you have a woman at work series? Can you post for me one of your favourite pic on this topic, please? It is gonna be my inspro for every morning

  3. Among your best… very interesting, imho

  4. In which way does your photo-essay represent the city of Chicago? I find it very difficult to take such a huge city as a theme of a photo series and to get under the surface. Robert Frank managed with his „The Americans” to go deeper; I suppose you’ld need a lot of time. That’s why I suggest to photographers to research on their own environment.

    • I must not have been clear enough. The huge city wasn’t the theme; it was the idea of man set in Chicago as a backdrop. The way people interact with or respond to or behave in an urban environment but are still pretty much isolated was the underlying idea, as described here.

      • Thank you very much for your kind explication. It might be interesting to find out, which particular effect on human behaviour (or isolation) can be observed in different cities. Is there a special atmosphere in Chicago, making people lonely? Or is the city as a background layer a metaphor of ”the city” as a way of modern life?

        • I think it’s the latter. Not everybody feels a connection to where they live; there is underlying necessity and perhaps history but no real passion. I certainly have felt that way about places I’ve lived…as though I am merely passing through on the way to somewhere else. The larger the metropolis, the more migrants are attracted and the more likely this is to be true – or at least that’s my theory. 🙂

  5. Dope shit…as the kids (used to?) say!

  6. A good moment

  7. thephotoseye says:

    These are fabulous!

  8. Brett Patching says:

    I really love this set, Ming.

  9. Michiel953 says:

    On their own these images may not leave a lasting impression, it’s the repetition of the theme that makes the series as a whole so haunting.

    On a side note, was there any way you could have avoided the “Trump” name?

  10. Hi Ming, was the slight motion blur in picture #1 achieved by using a stabilized camera (A7RII? Q?) and slower shutter speed?

  11. I have to laugh when I see this set, because it’s so unlike the previous one in mood and feeling. Anyone who tried to guess your motives behind the last one really had no clue because they literally did not have the complete picture. I guess we’ll see what the armchair psychoanalysts come up with this time!

  12. Really like every one of these — not just because there is a person in each, but because your techniques (perspective, blurriness, etc.) are so striking. Thanks for posting!


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