Photoessay: vignettes of melancholy and longing

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Here’s a slightly unusual (and personal) curation, matching my usual mood: I hugely cut down the amount of travel I’ve been doing (after pretty much ten years of non stop, at least twice a month work trips), starting in the second half of 2017 and continuing on to 2018. But the last couple of months have reminded me precisely why I made that choice: yes, you get to do some fun stuff, but it’s also fatiguing, you don’t see your family (worse, if your wife happens to have an opposite travel schedule which means you’re never in the same place at the same time), hotels are soulless, and working off a laptop with a malfunction keyboard (hello, double alphabets) and trackpad (goodbye, click!) when you’re used to a dual screen 27″-32″ setup is positively claustrophobic (and unproductive). Hell, I even miss my car and my polar bears. Sometimes these feelings concentrate, and leave you with an odd sort of creative inspiration that makes you search the back catalog and realise that at some point – many points, really – in your previous travels, you’ve felt exactly the same way. And it somehow made you a little creative at the time. And I have to say, in an odd way – that cheered me up. MT

Shot over a long, long period of time with a wide variety of equipment. Mostly processed with PS 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. As you say Ming, travel has become a real downer. Being of another generation, I would show up at the airport 1/2 hr. before takeoff and sit in a plane that was usually only 1/2 full. And, I could carry on practically anything. I once carried on a Balcar 2400 ws power pack! They asked me what it was and I said it was a power pack for a flash unit. ” Fine, go right on, was their response.”

    Also, the airports were not crowded with plenty of nearby cheap parking. Flying went down the drain around 1970. Cheaper flights but the bus is equally cheap. Speeds have stayed the same since 1959 when I took my first Boing 707 flight. Maybe supersonic will come in the 2030s.

    And finally, pretty soon, all countries will require visas that take 6 months to get! You young guys are more used to travel hassles so it seems normal to you. For a lot of flights the “pre” flight time takes longer than the actual flight! Sometimes I try to drive but the traffic jams are so bad that it’s 50% of one and 50% of another.

    Well Ming, those are my upbeat opinions for the present. I’m glad I’m retired because every day is Saturday!

    • Blame physics for the speeds…and marketing/corporate/economics for not providing incentives to go faster. But the crappiness of the experience lies squarely in bigotry and paranoia…I’ve been on flights where the security and immigration times at either end were longer than the actual airtime itself. Queuing for 2-3 hours or more at immigration in the UK or US for us is pretty normal…

  2. Exceptional photos. Specially the one with the woman showing her back.
    For someone traveling (traveled) a lot , you use H5/6D series more often than their mirrorless sibling.

    • Thanks. I like my optical finders…and if I’m already carrying it for work, there’s not really much point in carrying an additional system. Admittedly these days I’m using the Z7 or Pen F a lot more, though.

  3. Larry Kincaid says:

    The mood you’ve evoked with these, especially the one of the empty hotel bed, immediately reminded me of my favorite Haiku poem. It’s one that always haunted me when I traveled abroad, especially to Asia. I googled a fragment of it and it miraculously as usual popped up on top, followed by advertisement for beds. Unfortunately, the web site did not include the Japanese poet responsbble: Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it:
    I sleep… I wake…
    How wide
    The bed with none beside.

  4. You know, I never think to look for photographic opportunities in hotel rooms. Likewise, I travel less but still get a nicely designed room from time to time. As always, thanks for the inspiration.

    • That’s the thing about creative opportunity – it presents itself in the most unexpected of places. We just need to be open to it and prepared to take advantage…

  5. Nice. I also find that working hard and then stopping gives one a temporary case of “post project depression.” The change from “always on” back to normal is itself disruptive. I work better when I’m home… Thanks for writing this one.

    • I think it’s the euphoria/endorphins of the high that have worn off and you’re suddenly back to normalcy (or the closest we get can to normal when you work on a variable project basis) and the interstitial spaces where we’re not creating…

  6. I believe this same feeling was the inspiration for the “alone in my hotel room” Flickr group! : )

  7. Kristian Wannebo says:

    I do enjoy these photos!
    Especially as your eye sees when a small number of significant and well distributed details enhance a photograph!

    First I didn’t see any dark mood (not quite what I mean, but I can’t find a better word just now).

    But after rereading your text and your comment answers I understand what you mean when you say a certain, perhaps lonesome, mood was necessary for making many of these photos.

    I’ve occasionally tried making photos of similar scenes but never really succeeded, perhaps because I just then wasn’t in such a mood.

    So you have opened a new way of thinking about photography for me, not to try to show what I see, but to try to show the mood with which I see it!

    Your series reminds me of good examples of the theme when paintings show light coming through a darker foreground…

    • Thanks – perhaps it’s not a bad thing (personally) that you don’t see the dark mood, and you’re not in the mood to see that way yourself – I can’t honestly say it’s a pleasant place to be in mentally…

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Yes, I can see it after rereading.
        But I also see a light shining through in many of the photos, perhaps as a reflection of the creative impulse you described.

  8. I really enjoy your talent. Try to enjoy this season of staying home.

  9. I feel the same way. After working full-time, 24×7, 365 days a year because my job was also my avocation (I loved it), I see little reason to leave a perfectly good home and family for almost any reason. LOL.

  10. A lovely series. Especially the accompanying words, which I found – and find – very poignant and ‘relatable’. Other words which spring to mind are ‘loneliness’ and ‘alienation’. Overall, thematically, this series reminds me of some of the images from one of my favorite films, Jean-Luc Godard’s semi-futuristic ‘film noir’ mystery, ‘Alphaville’, which was about, among other things, a lonely detective who spent a great deal of nocturnal time in empty urban spaces whose moody (and almost underwater-feeling) visual nature only enhanced his underlying melancholy and sense of isolation. The movie’s locations – empty underground parking lots – empty enormous indoor swimming pools – empty onramps and exit ramps – exuded similar feelings.

    I’ll say it again: I find these images moving and compelling…and for me, the ‘whole’ (the entire series) feels greater than the sum of the (admittedly great, on an individual basis) constituent parts.

    • Thank you – I’m also torn between showing this kind of melancholy/ depression and amplifying such feelings, and trying to escape them…honestly, producing work like this is not easy mainly because of the mental state you have to be in (and probably shouldn’t be trying to maintain).

  11. John Moran says:

    I love the blue tones. If /i am not under time pressure I find curating and reprocessing/reinterpreting photos very relaxing. I’m glad you are back home with your family and of course your polar bears. Best wishes!

  12. Ming,

    I can relate all too well. I’d even bring a camera on my trips – though working in PE, there’s precious little time for that. For years after that, I didn’t even want to travel for pleasure. My friends who worked in “regular” jobs couldn’t understand why I never wanted to go on vacation and spent all my money on cars and trackdays. Not something that can be digested unless you’ve lived it yourself.

    • Too much of anything tends to kill the joy of it – be it vacations, trackways or just sitting on airplanes. Even photography. Finding that balance between enough of something interesting to provide inspiration and too much of something to the point it becomes fatiguing is a tricky thing to do, IMO.

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