Photoessay: Urban minimalist abstraction

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I think if I were a painter, I’d probably work in a completely opposite style to the way I photograph most of the time: somewhat impressionistic, with strongly graphic, block structures that are aesthetically pleasing and no more than essential to the mere suggestion of the subject. Forget being explicit; leave that to the imagination of the viewer. It’s much more difficult to do photographically since the medium is one that faithfully records everything that’s there – good and bad and without prejudice towards ‘cleanliness’; you have to hunt quite hard to find something that remains graphic on a macro scale since large objects in an urban environment simply don’t stay perfectly uniform for very long, which in turn breaks the illusion of minimalism. Nevertheless, I think it remains an interesting visual training exercise because it forces you to really observe and distill the essence of an object…even if some retouching is required to clean it up afterwards. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and CFV-50c on a 501CM, and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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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. Carlos Polk says:

    You are the best! This is spectacular. My time to spend on photography is very limited, but I do get the opportunity at times in urban settings (big cities) when I travel on business and have no family duties. As you now are aware, children take up a lot of time and attention. Your use of reflections, shadows and clouds is very instructive. That use, combined with the minimalist nature of this set, has a very strong impact. As always, thanks.

  2. Hugh Rigley says:

    Wonderful work as always Ming. I must say that in viewing Saul Leiter’s work it was the first time I experienced photography that I felt intensely in the heart. I still feel it when I view his work. Bam! It was like that. I think Saul was a genius and his photography mimics his art. Needless to say I am a BIG fan.

  3. So very well done. The absence of immediate human presence is striking for an urban environment. Great exercise for your students; for all of us, actually. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Beautiful – you are so very talented

  5. Hi Ming
    The level of abstraction varies, though that is because I recognise a few of the Singapore building.
    The monochrome glass door is the most eye catching for me, just enough texture, dirt and decay to make it very real, the abstract effect of shadow projection on drapes/blind accentuate the minimal depth sufficiently to make it interesting. It is superficially simple and yet tells the whole story.

  6. Urban minimalistic abstraction? I think you deserve a gold-medal there . . .

  7. Such artistic !!!

  8. I feel very much the same. The key word in your article for me was “suggestion.” As in depicting the “suggestion” of a thing and not the explicit representation of it. And I agree also that I would much prefer to trigger the viewers imagination with an image, and not hit them over the head with it! Excellent article and accompanying images. Thank you.

    • The power of suggestion is precisely why the book is always better than the movie – there’s a lot left to the imagination, and we are ourselves best at fulfilling our own expectations…

  9. Very nice Ming! Probably my favorite theme of your admittedly very wide-ranging portfolio!

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