Photoessay: Prague monochromes, part III

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On this visit to Prague, I was struck by the feeling that a lot of the people I observed were looking for something: it wasn’t so much a definite journey or objective or quest, but just a general sense that something was missing. Perhaps it was the tour groups that outnumbered the locals, or perhaps it was the subtle shift in the proportions of businesses: set up for and transacting mainly with locals vs. visitors. Don’t get me wrong; I realise that I too am a visitor, but there’s something about the mass hoards that gets my goat. Maybe it’s because they wonder around bovine and gawking and oblivious to consideration of anybody else, or maybe it’s because once you have too many of them – the whole feel of the place changes, and then it no longer becomes the place that motivated you to visit and experience it. I don’t think this is specific to Prague in any way, though I’d always felt the Czechs managed to hold on a little bit longer than some other places. In an odd way, once the balance flips in favour of tourists vs locals, the place feels the same as any other city that caters for tourists – other than the setting. In effect, a very large theme park. What I saw, and tried to capture, was transition. Maybe this is the new normal, everywhere…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, and H6D-50c, 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. Dieter Kief says:

    The idea to capture something only by being at a certain town or city was once worthwhile. Lots of the great one of photography worked that way.
    But the superficial and the fast and somewhat “robberyish” approach – I think it’s over. Andreas Gursky once – in his twenties, thought about following the great ones in their footsteps. He even bought a Leica M 6 (if I remeber right – could have been a M 5, too) only to discover, that the game he tried to get into didn’t pay off anymore (ok – literally (=financially) too, but not only). As I said: If I remember right, he even got suicidal, so desperate was he when he discovered, that Robert Lebeck, Raymond Depardon, René Burri, Willy Ronis, Thomas Höpker, Werner Bischof, et. al. (Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau…), had already been there…and hadn’t left out much of what there is to see, at first sight, at least.

    I felt some kind of emptiness, Ming, when I saw your Prague-Fotos, which reminded me of the estrangement, which is deeply rooted in the societal structures of our times. Something’s missing. – That’s a Brecht quote, by the way – ehe, see, I’m going full circle here…from estrangement to Brecht (don’t know wether you too did refer to Brecht with your remark, that you had the impression in Prague, that all these somewhat hip travellers lokked empty – aas if they’d m i s s something….

    German writer Hans-Magnus Enzensberger (definitely post-Brecht, though) in one of his brilliant poems: “There’s something missing here, comrades. / I don’t know what it is. I only know it’s most important.”

    All these things like the feverish worldwide travel-boom do for sure have aesthetic consequences, too. The magic word in your remarks Ming seems to be: Theme park (which in itself is something completely aesthetical (cf. the pictures of Martin Parr/ and William Eggleston, too (Eggleston, because he at one point (when he switches to color) decided not to care about the superficiality and plain ugliness even (at first sight, at least) of modern life).

    • There’s definitely something missing/ empty here. I’ve been to Prague more than half a dozen times over the last decade, and the theme park feeling was stronger than ever. I really want to go back because I love the baroque romance of the city and the slightly quirky people, but it just doesn’t feel the same somehow. Of course I realise the irony in being a tourist myself…

      • Dieter Kief says:

        “Tourismus ist die Seuche, die sich über sich selbst beklagt.” German novelistr and essayist Hermann Peter Piwitt

        (“Tourism is the plague, that decries its own existence”).

  2. Bill Walter says:

    Always like your black & whites Ming. They’re all excellent, but 1,2,6,7 & 11 have that extra magic.

  3. i got the same feeling in Prague – i connected much more 13 years ago and absolutely different observation last time. i call this Disney land for tourists but nothing original local that touched me.

    • And the same for Venice, Kyoto, Queenstown and a whole bunch of other cities…

      • oh really. sounds too bad.. maybe you have to go there alone. to find some Airbnb apartment for a short period !? i sure that for this can change the whole feeling about what is going and to connect to locals

        • I do usually go alone, and I’ve got a few local Czech friends who were mentioning the same thing – they feel tourism is necessary but something that must be tolerated. Especially with tourists from certain countries…it is the same thing that’s been documented in Venice for years. I just find it ironic so many people are trying to make money from tourism to go be tourists elsewhere! Grass is greener and all that.

      • Alex Carnes says:

        … and even my beloved Orkney. It used to be quiet and real when I lived there just over a decade ago; now giant cruise ships just roll in to this small place one after the other. I still go back to visit friends but the place I once loved is gone. Mass tourism is destroying pretty much anywhere worth seeing!

  4. A very nicely seen set of photos. The darker, moodier photos are my favourites among these.

  5. I used to live in CZ as an outsider myself. I think the Czechs have managed to find some balance between staying ‘the same’ for the sake of tourism and continuing to evolve and build as a society. The tourists do tend to get a bit overwhelming in Prague though (best ‘tourist free’ time to go is in dead of winter when Prague is a fairytale land of snow). I was once on a bus during a downpour; the driver was having a hard time navagating and some particularly loud British tourists were making a ruckus. The driver turned around and shouted (in Czech) ‘Somebody tell those girls to shut up or I’m going to get my Soviet on!’. A kindly elderly gentleman asked them politely to quiet down (without the threat of impromptu Soviet enforcement).

    • I’ve been a few times in winter but never managed to time it to catch the snow, somehow – would love to though!

      The Soviet part is hilarious. The Czech people I know are some of the most genuine, warm souls – once you get past the Soviet…

  6. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    You are a very sincere and observant man, Ming. Many places are finding that as jobs in industry shrivel (with more and more goods made elsewhere and simply imported), they need to turn to other things, as a source of income – and tourism is widely promoted, in an effort to fill the gap. It works for some – at least for the time being – but how far can it take the global economy? And what happens to a “tourist destination” that survives like that, when people from other countries see disturbing reports of violence, etc?
    Putting that aside, all but one of the photos illustrating this article appear to provide a very realistic picture of daily life in the city. The chap with the Marciano bag might not – but then I am left wondering what on earth a tourist would want, with all those baguettes? Maybe he’s a local, after all?

    • I just get the strange sensation of a snake eating its own tail: tourists are people from elsewhere that work in the tourist industry back home to go elsewhere on vacation to see…the same things, conceptually. Surely something is not right here…

  7. Great grays and blacks in some blisteringly bright sunlight.

  8. Sadly, that new normal is just about everywhere. Great images. Don’t forget to look for the few people that are still awe of life and look at each day as a gift. They are easy to spot, the ones with a smile on their faces. Have a great day and thank you for sharing such wonderful work, observations and skills.

  9. François Arbour says:

    Wow!  Those black and white are gorgeous.

  10. Great series, Ming! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Beautifully done. The expressions you have caught on the faces of some of the people certainly seems to support the point you are making.
    And, what you’re saying is very true. I have little or no interest in going to Venice anymore, and to me, it’s one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

    • Thanks – I think timing matters again, but for different reasons: finding those couple of weeks when the city becomes itself again…too many of these old world places start to feel a bit like giant theme parks.

  12. Lovely set, Ming!!!

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