Photoessay: The anonymous flaneur, part I

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Leading on in the spirit of the previous post, I present a set of observations of anonymous individuals passing through the stage of life, without leaving anything more than a transient wisp. Are we equally observing each other, or are we preoccupied in our own bubbles? The more people around us, seemingly the more impermeable and discrete those bubbles become. As there’s less and less personal space we seek to defend it more closely. Is human nature wanting what we cannot have? MT

This set was shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120VR and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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


  1. I find myself oddly drawn to these two photos: and

    All your photographs are great but those two stand out to me.

  2. High Rigley says:

    How to describe the first one. Phantasmagorical? This is an amazing array of photos. Where does one start. Number one caught me gobsmacked for a moment, the Zebra crossing I thought very Cartier Bresson or somebody from his era. The big one for me was the VW camper style coffee wagon. Back in the 60,s 70’s and 80’s was a downtown firefighter and when we had a large structure fire (3rd alarm + in those days) once we knocked it down most guys were desperate for a smoke and then a coffee. Officially we were given chicken soup, however, circling the fire were these canteen or Jiffy wagons. We lined up soaking wet and stinking of smoke. Ahh it was good! That photo powerfully brought that back with a certain special Impact. This may be too personal and not be suitable for posting, however, just wanted you to know.

    As an aside sent your blog to a new acquaintance and he emailed back stating he was going to give up photography and just watch and wait for you to post photos.

    • Thanks! The most impactful/memorable images for us are the ones we have an emotional (and therefore personal) connection to…makes sense once you explained the context – thanks for sharing that 🙂

      We all make crappy images, trust me; I probably spend a bit more time on curation than most though…

  3. Bill Walter says:

    Along with your architecture and black & white captures, I’ve always liked your photos of anonymous individuals. This is a very entertaining set. #8 is very interesting to me. I think a crop of all the shadows on the wall (including the individual) might be interesting. Also, your work is proof that it is not always necessary to lift the shadows. Sometimes the additional contrast gained with darker shadows adds to the depth & mystery of a shot.

    • Thanks – I like to use blocked shadows to create underlying structure and defining geometry in the scene (less so mystery; that I prefer to be very low key but still suggestive).

  4. Wayne Eng - couching tiger says:

    Ming, your ability to ”see” is a rare gift. These are some of your best work, and my favorites too!.

  5. Werner Walther says:

    A kind of PS to my comment:

    My preferred picture is the person on the Zebra crossing, we guess, that it might be a person, but we know nothing about the upper half.

    The discrepance und tension is a maximum between the question “What can we see on the picture …” (in describing it inch per inch, describe what is the imprint on the negative, on the chip and on my retina, and ….

    .. and the question “What HAPPENS here ….?”, and here everybody will give an individual interpretation, 100 viewers might tell more than 100 stories derived from looking at this picture of the Zebra crossing.

  6. Werner Walther says:

    Long time that I did not comment, just enjoyed.

    But this time …. really Ming, that’s the style of photography that I really like!

    The things (or the person) might not be, what they seem to be on the photograph, or they bear aspects, what they might be or not, or they just leave us with a scene, where we feel that there is a riddle behind it.

    Looking at these photographs, we feel questions rising in us like “what is this person doing?”, “where do they come from?”, “where are they aiming to?” or even “are they not aware of what could happen to them?.

    Always is the emphasis on thinking about it, the picture is an impetus for us, and no interpretation will be the same from different persons, or even ourselves from one day to the next day, or just from looking at it in the morning and in the evening.

    That’s on the way to photography at its best!

  7. Neal Spero says:

    As usual truly great candids. Why not use the Hasselblad?

  8. Thank you. Great thoughts in these (‘flaneur’) pieces. “record only what leaves an impression” (from the previous essay) seems to be the key, in looking backwards thru the lens to identify what your impression is, and of course being open to being impressed.

  9. Michael says:

    Oh, very nice. The lead image stopped me cold. Clicking through to Flickr didn’t answer the question of what the hell is going on here. Knowing that you are not prone to random compositing, I had to fumble about for a ridiculous amount of time to find the ‘rotation lock’ function on my iPad to see through it. Further adventures in reflectography. Hah!

    The rest are quite striking as well — in particular the VW camper coffee shop. Framing it wide like that enhances its impact tenfold. Never would have thought of that. Therein lies the difference. Well, at least one.

  10. Well done Ming, i’m not always a big fan of your work but undoubtedly you have a vision and consistency, when i “flane” on Flickr i always recognize your job. So no unconditional love but high respect, except I still think you should not have sold your soul to a camera manufacturer, in a way you betrayed the idea of the Flaneur portrayed by Charles Baudelaire, anyway life goes on. Back to Art, Imho number 7 is true art. Some could call it “Stairway to death” and others “Social climbing” depends how you define success. Put your horrible black suit and leave the forest the life and its true meaning to reach the insipid world of concrete heights. Green to Grey ! I concede my vision is a bit extremist but you got it ! You have to expose and sell this one.
    “Ma curiosité se fixe de préférence sur ce que l’on néglige ou que l’on ne voit pas, faute d’y accorder une valeur quelconque. Une intuition me fait croire que ces interstices de la réalité possèdent une qualité poétique supérieure à celle des objets domestiqués par le sens collectif”
    Le vagabond approximatif de George Picard.
    Peace from a french flaneur.

  11. Terry B says:

    Ming, a wonderful set of images, as usual, and I love the one with the Volkswagen coffee shop! But what’s with the first image? This is displaying as a highly manipulated collage, as though a Star Trek transporter has not put the bits back together in their correct place. :D)

    • Aha – the first one is an inverted reflection in a mirrored roof…no manipulation other than the transporter.

      • Terry B says:

        Don’t do this to me! :D) So this explains why the clock digits on the rear of the bus are reversed. Simple, when you know why.

  12. Your Nr. 10 with the Zebra crossing: It is true art and reminds me on the great french streetphotographers of the 40th, 50th and 60th. Great! I think, that this pic can do it in the “IKEA Poster league” (e.g.: the classical pic, where Construction workers eat their lunch atop a steel beam 800 feet above ground), which means, where the people buy the POSTER in 10 million copys or so…… 😉

  13. A truly amazing set of photos, a lot of them having that ‘decisive moment’ feel that a lot of street photography lacks. Thanks so much for showing such consistently high quality work, I always look forward to seeing and reading your posts.

  14. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Perfect candid street photography – without the issues relating to “obtaining consent” and without a hint that the subjects are posed in any way, or affected in any way b the presence of a camera. Great photography. Thanks for sharing it and sharing your thoughts with us, Ming. 🙂

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