Photoessay: Suburban geometry, part I

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Am I the only one who finds it odd that a) we are of organic, irregular shape and yet b) create our environments to be as regular and inorganic as possible – even with the possibilities long afforded to us by modern manufacturing methods, we stick to at best a greatly reduced and simplified facsimile of nature? Furthermore, all suburban environments have become so similar I don’t know whether to think of it as fairness, aspiration to the same standards or a homogenous dystopia. Case in point: these images were shot in no less than six cities, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance (and there is also a massive curation bias that is involved in removing any localising elements, of course). This is especially true as configurations and details simplify into what is cheapest to build, easiest to maintain or least likely to cause offence. Chasing uniqueness in the photography of urban exploration has become a challenge not so much to find unusual locations so much as a race against the shadows for the flaneur – perhaps, much as it should be. MT

This series was shot with an assortment of cameras and lenses over a fairly wide period of time, but all post processed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III and the Weekly Workflow.

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Prints from this series are available on request here


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


  1. ShafikZaman says:

    Ming – I believe it’s all about time and cost.
    As long as buildings are built by developers, they will continue to be homogeneous and soulless because the end game is always quantitative rather than qualitative.
    They may claim qualitative pursuits but behind always lies the quantitative agenda.

    • Agreed – and given they’re pretty much the only people who can afford the land and construction, I think we’re going to see even more homogeneity in future…

    • exactly. Developers build what makes them most money, design is only given enough thought to attain planning permissions.

  2. David Babsky says:

    But then again ..Hundertwasser’s antidote to all this, in Vienna..

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      Agree, and Gaudis Casa Miro i Casa Batlo in Barcelona. This here architecture is a physical sterile matrix

  3. “all suburban environments have become so similar”… so true. and quite scary at times. Also, very interesting reflection at the beginning. our relation with the environment – natural and man-made – is fascinating. Thanks for posting this!

  4. Great shots – such strong composition. We are all truly more similar than different.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. You have to account for local knowledge too. For instance, I am 99% convinced that the third shot is Japan, from the power lines and style of traffic light. It was an instinctive reaction, because I’ve lived there for 14 years. While you may well curate to make the image as “non-specific” as possible, there are things that long term residents will see that you don’t (I know that you know Japan well, but it would be like if I took a picture in Kuala Lumpur, for instance : there would quite possibly be dead giveaways in the picture that I wasn’t aware of).

    • (Addendum : if it’s not Japan, then you have proved your point strongly).

      • Mark
        I have never been to Japan but it looks like a distinctly Japanese form of brutalist architecture that was popular, or adopted by some western universities in the 1960’s and 70’s. It is supposed to be more humane than European brutalism, or something like that.
        In addition many architects would argue that it is an organic design, but every design discipline has its own take on what ‘’organic’’ means.
        Regards Noel

    • Agreed – the power lines and the tiles on the side of the buildings are giveaways. That said, I’ve seen similar in Bangkok, too – the sky is just never quite as blue. As for Kuala Lumpur: striped black and white kerbs 🙂

  6. Interesting! I always enjoy your images and perspective. I am sure many of your readers hope for the return of the “Weekly Workflow” or something similar.

  7. Une approche très intéressante.
    Bravo !!!

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