Photoessay: Idea of Man, Lisbon

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Continuing my ongoing exploration of the Idea of Man theme in Lisbon has lead to a bit of a divergence – on one hand, we have the very social areas where the tourists and residents congregate and interact; on the other hand, there’s also definitely a sense of isolation and a city that’s a bit too big for the number of people living there. The wistful dreaming at the transition point makes me wonder – nostalgia or perhaps not quite a true desire to escape, but certainly a strong drive to see what’s over the horizon? MT

This series was shot mostly with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, 50mm and 100mm lenses in Lisbon, Portugal, with a couple of supporting images from a Leica Q. Postprocessing follows Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow II and The Weekly Workflow.

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Masterclass Prague (September 2016) is open for booking.


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


More info on Hasselblad cameras and lenses can be found here.


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


  1. Ming, I am a fan & a follower since quite some time. What I adore about your extremely recognizable style is the synergy of form (or it’s deconstruction – much like you descrbied in the recent Mondrianesque post 😉 + tech perfection, which I believe is not simply craftsmanship but a language on it’s own (I picture an insane and brilliant painter with obsessive attention to the technical aspects of the medium that he believes are there to convey the message flawlessly and each and every stroke of his carefully selected brush is essential, critical and indispensable and he can repaint the same piece 10 times until he nails it – quite Rothkoish, come to think of it… 😉 .
    That said, to me your “people photos” are lacking compared to others (you wife’s pics being an exception of this rule 🙂 ). This is quite funny because you intentionally add the human element and to me the end result is lesser than the sum of its parts (reverse synergy – is there a word for that? ;). The photos feel strangely artificial or forced. It’s hard for me to explain that, it’s a sublime impression hard to convey in a foregin languge. I think I understand what youre trying to say with the photos and I did read previous idea of man posts but still I am not convinced.
    Now, I don’t know if this anyhow is meaningful to You. I think people photos are not your path. But then again I could be wrong, Maybe after reaching a breaking point you will suddenly unleash an avalanche of inspiring “people photos” (or photos with a human ingredient in them) and prove me wrong and prove that exploring is what all artists should do 😉
    Ok, so having this said I still want to complement the bicycle boy photo – I think its amazing (not sure about the top left part as far as composition goes, but im not an expert – you are, as I ilearned to believe :). What a shot!

  2. Fantastic images…lisboa has so many layers to it…and you have captured many of them … : ))

  3. Lucy March says:

    I’ve loved all your work from Portugal and of this set, I thought the one with the child was particularly striking, with its juxtaposition of large and small, narrow and wide. dark and light, empty and full. Well done!

  4. Very nice overhead shot of the man on the stairs.

  5. Very very nice pictures.
    Going from country to country , seems the perfect opportunity for testing a very particular camera named X1D one might guess…

  6. Michiel953 says:

    I think these are very, very good. I really admire the compositions and the lighting

  7. I am surprised by the large amount of graffiti I see in your photos from European cities. Much more so than here in the U.S. Do you have any thoughts as to why many Europeans want to desecrate their cities, and why the municipalities and the affected property owners don’t seem to care?

  8. Wonderful photos, I see the life of Lisbon in them.

  9. Bill Walter says:

    Not sure if this was great timing on your part or luck or possibly a combination, but the placement of people in this set is uncanny. It’s the placement of the bodies that creates the interest here. The entire group is engaging, but #1, #4, #5, #9 & #13 really knock me out.

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      Yep !!
      – – –

      May I add…

      #1 A ruin at the top of fairly modern stairs.
      Makes me think about people striving – and then you just can’t see if they go up, or down.

      #2 Are we or our shadows more ridiculous? 😉

      #5 To me also illustrates the dichotomy of man’s indoor life and outdoor life.
      Personally, I get a feeling of loneliness.

      #7 gives me very mixed feelings, nostalgia, longing, restfulness, “being there” ..
      I think of it as a mild version of “Only the clouds are truly free (#1 in the set)” experienced by city dwellers.

      #11 and #9 also for the abstract aspects of the compositions!
      – – –

      I search for words for a common feeling I get in most of this set.
      I think it is “being here and not being there” (both “here” and “there” meant to mean inside the motif).

      • Transience, perhaps? 🙂

        • Kristian Wannebo says:

          Yes, maybe also (had to look it up).
          But I was thinking of places, not time.

          Man going, or wanting to go, to an other (that other) place.
          Or being content to stay, when seeing the other place.

    • Very much deliberate timing, and waiting for the right group/arrangement of humans when required. Luck generally doesn’t have anywhere near as high a hit rate 🙂

  10. Beautiful series… great diversity…

    Really enjoyed the way you have used shadows and shades 🙂

  11. Praneeth Raj Singh says:

    The image with the toddler on the bicycle was the most interesting to me. Initially you expect the person to be under the the entrance to the corridor (bottom middle of image). But that’s not where they are and while my first thought was it isn’t balanced, you give it a few seconds and then realize it’s not a balance issues. It’s an issue of you expecting something, but the reality being otherwise.

    And something as simple as that can make a good image, great. For me, at least.

  12. richard majchrzak says:

    indeed quite empty streets . but very nice and informative pix , excellent, thanks


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