Photoessay: Chicago stories

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You will pay…or the Don will make you pay

I’m going to try something a bit polarising today: a set of images with an imagined narrative, and knowing how many of you dislike titles, I’m almost certain that my read of the narrative is going to be completely different to yours. This may be down to cultural context, personal context/ biases, or my subconscious including ambient elements that were in the scene but not captured. Feel free to offer an alternative interpretation. MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q, D810/ Zeiss 28 Otus, A7RII/ Zeiss 85 Batis and processed with Photoshop Workflow II. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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There’s a whole different world up here

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Falling in slow motion

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I hate delivering bad news

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Preparing for an imaginary audience in an imaginary world

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Lakeshore isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

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Nothing ever really fits…but cool means it doesn’t have to.

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Will anybody notice if we don’t go back to the office?

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Cue the James Bond theme song and a car chase, or perhaps a moody taxi ride.

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No refuge

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Nope, not as waterproof as they said…

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One went in, three came out

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Sometimes a wrong turn can leave you several decades from your destination.


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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. I think it’s an interesting set. Some of the images and captions don’t do much for me, but some others feel spot on. You did warn us it was going to be polarizing though. 🙂 ‘Waterproof’, ‘Wrong Turn’ and ‘Imaginary world’ are my favorite.

  2. Ming,

    It seems this debate about captions is just silly. If the photographer’s intent is to communicate something specific via a title, then the title itself becomes part of the photographic “composition” process. I don’t understand the furor over title vs not-title and think that the photographer’s intent trumps anything else. I also don’t understand how reading a title can degrade the “quality” or “impact” as much as people seem to say. All this to say, do what you want! They are your creations! (Which I can tell you will and don’t need another person saying anyway, ha).

    Title commentary aside, love the first image. Talk about a “decisive moment”! The last image seems so classically Chicago as well and (as a Chicagoan) I really love it. Keep it up!


  3. Dear Ming – I didn’t know any other way of sending you a photo so I sent you a link to my flickr account. Nevertheless, it was gracious of you to be willing to accept a photo but on second thought, you certainly have enough to do than waste time with less than amateur photos. Once again, thanks for your excellent work and direction.

  4. Great images, great captions, and thank you for today’s videos!

  5. Hah!
    In some dark corners your work has been described as soulless, clinical, detached, and — with regard to The Idea of Man — a long-form suicide note. This pretty much vaporizes that line of thought.

    • Well, there has to be some emotion evoked somewhere for an image to be memorable. Depression and isolation are just as strong, if not stronger, than whimsy – but there’s no reason one can’t have both.

      And if one is going to commit suicide, then you (and to your mind, nobody else) cares anymore. Why bother leaving a note?

  6. Great! 😀
    Delivering Bad News: Locked up in Security Cage

    I think captions aren’t so bad at all. Sure, they clearly interfere with interpretation – but this might as well be a question of how trained someones mind is in doing this interpretations by itself. It’s a way to let people participate in art that are normaly not so much into this. Let’s say it acts as inspirational help.

    • I suppose the trick is to provide just enough inspiration…the problem is when one’s mind is a little more warped than the next person 🙂

  7. So much fun to see these again through a slightly different filter. I especially loved the one of the photographer running from the spray!

  8. Loved it! Your titles are, to me, usually as creative as your wonderful photos.

  9. Hi, Ming.
    As I mentioned in one of your earlier posts, I’m not generally keen on captions to images (unless they inform me, such as locations for landscapes and cityscapes, for example) as the direction in which a caption wants me to go may not be what my reaction to the image is. Then the caption jars. But here you are simply professing having fun. Not all work for me here, but I do like the lakeside image and for me your caption is apt, and I find the same for the photographer with the tripod. I can identify with these.

    My suggestion for the couple sitting on the bench? Well, how about “I told the boss where to go, now look where I am!”

  10. Nice way to think about each photo representing a story behind them. I found the first two photos / accompanying captions the best.

    Some (immediate reaction) alternative captions that came to my mind when looking at the photos were:
    I hate delivering: I partied way too hard last night.
    Nothing ever really fits: This shrink better be good.
    Cue the James Bond: Which way did she go?
    Sometimes a wrong turn: I think I got the job.

  11. I LOVED the captions .. everyone has the right to be playful at times, even Ming Thein ! 🙂

  12. Ming, I think you should stick to creating images without labels because those captions are puerile at best 🙂
    Really, I kind of dig the pix but the feeling really got destroyed once I read the label below, stating the obvious or the absurd.
    It does not work for me.

  13. Curious, as a Chicagoan how many days were you here shooting to make the photoessay? Some easily identifiable locations and some not so much. Nice set.

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