Photoessay: Inconsequentiality, part I

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I had an odd feeling walking around Prague on this last trip – something that was not there the first time I visited in 2011, nor subsequently. Perhaps it was the sheer number of tourists; perhaps it was the lack of locals. But I couldn’t shake the sensation of walking around in a very big museum; everything preserved just so, architecture restored to beyond its original heights, yet somehow just tipping over that point where the residents live in the buildings to the residents living for the buildings. The stage itself was nicer than it had ever been; but somehow…something was missing. A degree of isolation came into play, and perhaps the friendliness was just a tad more forced than the last time I was here. Chalk it down to collective fatigue; perhaps: when everything is special, nothing is special anymore. Just soft people trying to fit into a rigid environment.

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C and various lenses and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass Workflow.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here

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

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

Comments

  1. I have lived in Prague for 34 years and I enjoy looking at your pictures from Prague even more than I do from other places you visit. I can say that it is quite easy for me to tell where each photo was taken so I like comparing your point of view vs. what I can see every day. I totally agree that the number of tourist coming to Prague has grown so much that some parts of the city have lost their original purpose and they are like corridors in a museum with hordes of tourists passing by. I think that this metaphoric museum has many unused doors to exhibitions that are just as interesting but not so overcrowded. Especially in the Old Town you can often find off-streets that are just as impressive but for some reason is overlooked by the tourists. Perhaps it is because as a tourist you know you have limited time for your trip and so you tend to move along the most “efficient” routes and you don’t risk going the unexplored routes. It changes if you begin to work/live in certain place so you begin to explore the area driven by curiosity what is in those unseen places. Going with someone local could also be a solution. By the way, many tourist make the error of visiting just Prague and not other places in Czech Republic that are also old and beautiful but you don’t meet a foreigner for the whole day. You may also have issue finding someone who speaks decent English, too. 🙂

  2. As Terry said, traveling has become very affordable and going on vacation also seems to be one of the few things nowadays that are still worth doing. In fact, for a lot of people it seems to be the one of the few outstanding goals in life.
    A lot of cities are facing what you, Ming, have seen an experienced in Prague for quite a long time. The “drawback” for EU cities, countries or regions might be, that they are relatively easy to reach from the Americas, Middle East, Asia etc. and due to the strong heritage and history are on a lot of peoples list.
    But the good news is, that there are still weeks or months were everything slows down and where you may be able to enjoy your stay. However, one thing that will not change is all the renovation, reconstruction etc. – something that is not helping with some of the unique places atmosphere like in Prague or Havana.
    As always, some things are getting (a lot) easier, while other things just seem to get more difficult.
    And this is short my short take on the topic 🙂

    • And in a way, I suppose we are also partially responsible: we keep wanting to find ‘new’ and ‘unexplored’ and then everybody else hears about it or sees it, and the cycle begins again…

  3. I hope the thrill of being in Prague has not run in course for you…. Many places feel as though the architecture of the past is being preserved by the people of present in a manner that somehow seems forced. Imagine if the people of Rome decided they’d had enough and wanted to start over. I wonder what they would erect in the the place of all that history. If they did – even if it were stunning and awe inspiring – how would we feel? Should we who don’t live there have an opinion? How much real estate is world heritage worthy? And what is the cost of that to the residents and to the those of us who only visit – or even those of us who would like to visit?

    • If it feels forced because I think it is – something switched in the last year or two, and I think it’s the balance between local and tourist (and the motivations behind business, preservation etc.) – not so much personally.

      • Tension takes its toll on the body and also on community and life in general. Tensions seem to be taking center stage at the moment. Its not easy to mask disatisfaction. Is there more flux than flow in the world at the moment? ‘Something is missing’. Not enough joy?

  4. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Go to Lwow in what`s now Ucraina, my birth town or to Bucarest in Rumania, away from maddning tourist crowd. Even Prague has some deturisted places if you move away from Mala Strana and old town, like Smihov, Zizkov, Letna and so on.

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      I might add that as to Venice, only Death in Venice, not in Thomas Manns book form but a real plague would save that place from selfie sticks waging insensitive crowds. La Peste by Camus is not bad either.

      • Definitely second the Lwów recommendation- before it get’s overrun by beer toting Brits like Prague and Kraków have 🙂

      • Venice is similar, but smaller – leave the grand canal, San Marco and that area – and the rest is pretty quiet. Especially in winter 🙂

    • One more for the to-visit list 🙂

      I’ve been to Letna and Smihov.

  5. Great photos I love your posts ✨

  6. Yes, central Prague is overrun with tourists and people trying to make living off them. The Old Town is beautiful but is terribly overrun with countless souvenir shops and ripoff restaurants. If you want to see some historical areas of Prague without all of the nonsense, czech out places like Prague 3 (Vinohrady, Zizkov) and Prague 6 (Dejvice, Stresovice, etc.). These are real, old, down-to-earth neighborhoods where locals live and the Czech spirit is alive. You can find great goulash and a pint at any neighborhood restaurant for $5 or less (at least you could a few years ago).

    Great pictures as always.

  7. Beautiful images as usual Ming ! I however have a feeling of looking at two sets of images: First and last photos seem to be a separate series – beautiful repetitive architectural patterns. As to the collective fatigue: This is Kafka’s and Hrabal’s town, the Czechs have that streak too 😉

  8. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    If it helps, I’m totally jealous of the sharpness of definition in these photos, Ming. Reminds me of the period during my 35mm film era when I lashed out on a succession of larger cams, including a Linhof and a two & a quarter square format one.

    I wonder if there is a problem for the Czechs, in settling down after the overthrow of the Communist regime and restoration of their habitat? A sense of purpose – now that’s all “done & dusted”, what are we supposed to do next?

    • Thanks.

      The more of ‘old Europe’ I visit, the more I can’t help but feel a lot of it is turning into a theme park for nouveau riche tourists – no clearer example of the new world eclipsing the old, I guess. I think there’s going to be a bit of adjustment as the former owners and master turn into service providers…

      • The problem is, Ming, it isn’t the nouveau riche that are the problem. It is the cheap air flights that make many European destinations so easy and inexpensive for the millions of tourists to visit. When it is cheaper to get return air tickets to Prague than it is to travel by train from London to Birmingham, UK, one can understand why millions of tourists opt to go abroad for cheap holidays, or booze weekends. Prague is a popular destination for Brits wishing the latter. But many places are so dependent upon tourism as part of the wider economy that even they are part and parcel of the problem.

        • “But many places are so dependent upon tourism as part of the wider economy that even they are part and parcel of the problem.”
          I’ve been wondering about this lately. Every country seems to be dependent on tourism to an increasing degree: this doesn’t quite make sense; if everybody is perpetually on holiday, where’s the money to sustain it coming from?

    • We build Europe, we destroy it. We rebuild it and we destroy it. We rebuild it again and eventually when fatigue and disillusionment are looming, as is the case right now, then, you guessed it, we tear it down, again! Its a continental ritual, proven to work, tested repeatedly over a couple millennia. The pendulum is now reversing, the spirit of these times is clear, the writing is on a the wall. Its time to return to borders, walls, protectionism, nationalism…. A tide this size will easily lift up the tiny Czech Republic and just carry it along for the ride.

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