Photoessay: Continuity

X1D3-B0001790 copy

I find it curious that a lot of modern structures try to hide their bulk buy the use of mirrors and glass; classical architects have proven that it’s very possible to make a beautiful and adequately light structure without massive glass curtain walls, and the brutal/industrial cast-concrete era of the 60s, 70s and 80s proved further that it’s even more possible to make such structures vomitoriously ugly and utilitarian. The modern stuff seems to try to blend by hiding – reflecting the surroundings and making it tricky to sometimes determine where the structure begins and ends. If a city were to only be furnished with such structures, there’d be a lot of light and the illusion of openness, but zero character and probably a lot of avian accidents. Fortunately, real life is a bit more chaotic and ‘dirtier’ which avoids that kind of thing. Yet there is still this strange blended continuity… MT

This series was shot in Tokyo with a Canon 100D, 24STM; an X1D-50c and 90mm; a H6D-100 and 100mm. Post processing was completed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III. Learn more about capturing the essence of a location with T1: Travel Photography; or visit Japan vicariously in How To See Ep.2: Tokyo.

100D_MG_2497 copy

H610J-B9993430 copy

X1D3-B0001576 copy

100D_MG_2840 copy

H610J-B9993448 copy

H610J-B9993411 copy

100D_MG_2106 copy

100D_MG_2999 copy

X1D3-B0001659 copy

X1D3-B0001324 copy


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop videos, and the individual Email School of Photography. You can also support the site by purchasing from B&H and Amazon – thanks!

We are also on Facebook and there is a curated reader Flickr pool.

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


  1. A wonderful photoessay. And I appreciate your thoughts on architecture and the modern world. I am curious about the second to last image. It doesn’t seem to quite fit with the others. But as I look at it more, I think I can see how, without the glass and reflections, it would appear to me a small glimpse of sky through a dark alley. But with the glass, the sky seems to extend down and forward into the alley. Still, I’m curious if you have any other thoughts/comments on including that photograph in particular?

    • It’s a series of illusions and reflections creating a sort of ‘hard wimmelbild‘ – details within details and so forth – in most of the images, that’s accomplished through layering, glass etc,; that particular image does the same thing but at a much shallower angle and without glass.

  2. On second thought perhaps it is the long focal length… still, I enjoy your compositions style!

    • That too helps since your angle (and keystoning) will just be lower for a given magnification due to longer subject distance…

  3. Ming, I am noticing that often your verticals are parallel even when the camera is tilted up… I love the look….
    you use the perspective shift to achieve this effect?

    • Mix of everything – sometimes perspective shift, sometimes just correct physical height, sometimes a little keystone correction in post…though not if too much is required as it both degrades image quality and causes vertical squashing.

  4. ihorpona says:

    One only has to count the many dead birds early in the morning to realize that many architects have not asked themselves or clients all pertinent questions. Talk to the maintenance personnel.

    • Some people have been thinking about it – the highway noise abatement barriers in Hong Kong are also glass, but have little bird decals randomly placed on them to deter avian collisions. Somehow I don’t see that passing the boards of a corporate’s shiny new HQ though…

  5. Ming,

    I need to take offence with your comment that “brutal/industrial cast-concrete era of the 60s, 70s and 80s” are “vomitoriously ugly and utilitarian”.

    In many ways, they are the most beautiful representation of “form follows function,” in a way that a glass building with superfluous chrome cladding could never be. While having been out of vogue for a while, I believe they will be, in the long run, the most enduringly elegant examples of early modern architecture, far more than what has followed in the 20 years since.

    See the exteriors and interiors of the original and new campuses of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (India) as an example.

    Best Regards,


    • Personal preference. They don’t age well at all, and I agree they are functional – but to the point of crushing everything around them. You don’t feel happy in or near one of those things, regardless of how efficient it is. I don’t think the modern glass and steel things are much better – they merely delineate space from the environment and don’t really add any personality of their own, at best reflecting surroundings – but at least they let light in…I suppose the obfuscated reflections are fairly accurately representative of the typical corporate smoke and mirrors that goes on inside, too.

      • Whoa. The exterior of the Ahmedabad example has all the charm and humanity of a siege fort. “Say, could you guide me to the powder magazine?”

        As unfortunate, Windex is a SC Johnson brand – privately held.

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      ACG-your comment- I need to take offence with your comment that “brutal/industrial cast-concrete era of the 60s, 70s and 80s” are “vomitoriously ugly and utilitarian”., is really misplaced. You give example of the work of great architect Luis Kahn, which is executed in brick not concrete Ming was talking about. Another example is National Assembly of Bangladesh, where Kahn used a lot of ispiration from local building tradition. By the way, if you are great, material doesn`t matter, take Kahns Salk Laboratories.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Form follows function worked for me with the Bauhaus and architects like Courboisier. Then it flew into a plate glass window and broke its neck. Ming tried to say it’s personal preference. I’d like to agree – but that’s too much of an ask when an ugly building stands in the midst of an otherwise attractive streetscape for a hundred years or more, in effect standing as an unconquerable argument in its own self justification, thereby denying everyone else the right to a different opinion. Sorry – I can’t swallow that one. It lacks logical validity.

  6. Just astonishing work.

  7. Great and beautifull

%d bloggers like this: