Photoessay: Motion in Tokyo/ The Idea of Man II

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I view The Idea of Man project as mostly complete; the story is tight and stylistically consistent. But I’ve been thinking a lot about its sequel in the time since the exhibition; to begin with – is there one at all? Where does one go from the story of the individual finding their place in the world? The answer came to me after some long exposure urban landscape: it’s in community, in groups, in the flow and interaction of individuals. And that idea will be at the core of The Idea of Man II.

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Rather than attempt to present the material in the same style as the previous body of work, I thought I’d try something different – groups can still be individually anonymous but defined; people might need hints of characteristics (but not specific ones) for the story to hang together. I would need to convey more of the flavour of the group than I did previously, but whilst still preserving some degree of anonymity and sense of ‘this could be me’. In the grand scheme of things, the environment – or at least the idea of the environment – lasts longer than the people in it, who are mostly transient – the people would therefore have to move. The environments would have to carry a distinctive mood, but not be too distinctive themselves – again to go with the idea of relative universality. What follows in this set is a very early curation – I’d say less than 30% will make the final ‘global’ set – of Idea of Man II. Enjoy!

This series was shot with a Leica Q, Nikon D5500 and 55-200 VR II, Sony A7RII, Zeiss Batis 1.8/85, FE 55/1.8, and Contax-Zeiss 2.8/85 Sonnar. Postprocessing was done following the Cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images 5. I’ll also no doubt be working on more images from this project during the Weekly PS Workflow sessions…

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Masterclass Prague (September 2016) is open for booking.


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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  1. Nice. That first shot with the mask has the look of one of Richard Prince’s Nurses paintings.

  2. Hi! Ming, I love these shots for the idea, execution and good contrast, mood etc. I was thinking if it will look equally as good when they were taken in B&W?

  3. David Lupton says:

    To me at least it feels completely anonymous, [now that may be the unspoken intent] however the long exposure is just a technique that you seem to be hung on in some ways, is it the right one for exploring the idea you have proposed, I am not so sure, its one tool in many, community is a 24 hour thing, community on the street at night is only a tiny part of human togetherness, is it more often than not[not always] the journey on the way to where people engage in community, in schools churches temples homes halls work sport clubs pubs art galleries parliament councils… etc.

    When I look at the work so far I wonder what you actually feel about community what your engagement, understanding is? How do communities feel about themselves, how does this one in this bright shiny city, what are you imposing on this place that is real or not, is it fiction non fiction?

    And who actually defines the idea of man is it me you God government philosophers each of us….there is no mention or challenge[you have but in a glancing blow kind of way] of this in the work so far and yet its a fundamental question. Great idea, its lifetime of work I think to pull this off or at least a few years.

    Is it mono cultural, cross cultural, universal…on and on the questions go, questions that could lead to an epic essay as it unpacks you technically and otherwise.

    • Anonymity isn’t so much the intent as having an image that hinges on a specific individual to work – that’s no longer universal. Long exposure is the easiest way to hit that intention (though of course not the only way) – and yes, as you point out, this is the just the beginning. I don’t even know if it’s possible to accurately ‘complete’ a work such as this simply because there are levels of society you won’t get access to, and thus cannot observe and comment on. Think of this as a paragraph in a chapter of a much larger book…

  4. Wow – these are very stunning photos! A joy to look at! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Haven’t commented for a while because it gets stale just saying “great shots” all the time, even when they are 😉 but this set grabbed me from the first shot. The combination of night time mood, Tokyo city life and the sense of motion is highly atmospheric, and very much enjoyed. 🙂

  6. I think this is my favorite series of yours ever. Just love the contrast of sharp environments, interesting scenes, and illusive people. Night photography also has always been a favorite of mine as well.

  7. Kristian Wannebo says:

    A great idea, and selection!

    I most especially like Nr:s
    1, 4, 7, 8, 10, 12 and 13.
    To me they tell the stronger stories.

    12: It took time till I noticed the girl in the middle.

    2: The people took my attention, so I didn’t see at once that the left buildimg isn’t straight.

    As *photos*, to my taste Nr:s 1, 3, 4, 10 and also 2 and 8 are the stronger, as I also sense abstraction in them.

  8. Richard P. says:

    Hi Ming,
    My favourite image is 4389. The reason is that I love the scene, the mood, the tone, everything perfectly captured and the motion blur is not at all distracting. Having said that, I personally find the other images yet again fantastic but in some cases the motion blur is very strong and prominent and distracting (to me). As a (very) long reader of yours and a huge fan, please don’t take this as a mean-spirited, negative criticism. I understand that it may be required for the vision you have of this theme and I’m sure you will have many more likes from your readership. But for some reason I can’t get past the distraction in some of the images.
    Cheers, Richard P.

  9. I really like 3996!

  10. This series was dope Ming.

  11. richard majchrzak says:

    love the shots, all , it’s clear Tokyo’s your place


  1. […] first series because that now has a mature and complete narrative; they don’t really fit the second series because I changed the presentation style – so they stand alone. You might wonder why I still […]

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