Photoessay: Life in the fishbowl

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With the amount of glass (all flawlessly clean, of course) in Tokyo, the number of tourists and the close proximity of everything…I can’t help but wonder if the residents sometimes feel like they’re living in a giant exhibit, periodically interrupted by gawking visitors with cameras from another realm. They take it with remarkably polite stoicism, unlike say, Venetians, who suffer the necessity of paying tourists with the bare minimum of tolerance. I suppose having industry other than tourism helps; that feeling of the ability to say ‘no’ – even you never do. Even if they didn’t – I certainly felt like I was part of the show. If not diving with the sharks, then at least snorkelling in the aquarium. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and 50/1.8 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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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 don’t do B&W but I have to admit, your shots gave a very atmospheric version of your main point!

    Let me try a different view: my wife used to live in Tokyo; after 30 years we went back. I was the odd one out.
    Her University colleague: “We get drunk together, get to know each other.”
    Her setai master: “I work on your body, we get to know each other.”
    Closest friends: used to babysit the kids & help with grandparents: “Our son is in Osaka. You must visit him” As in MUST.
    Taken to 10 seat sushi place on Tokyo Bay for my birthday. Omakase (oh gods, I’ll remember that as long as I live). Other three in the place are Japanese: Who are we, where from, let us take your picture. You take ours. (Digilux-6 Typ 109; perfect). We toast (they do; my Japanese couldn’t keep up). We are part of a “gumi” — a group.

    Japanese society is radically different. We are all one.

    • Thanks – yes, they are a very different group. I and a friend were invited recently to the wake of a chef acquaintance at a restaurant here I visit – all Japanese people, maybe a dozen in total…just my friend and I who weren’t. It was a touchingly intimate glimpse into a society you wouldn’t otherwise get to experience, and for that…I’m grateful.

  2. Pavel P. says:

    nice snorkeling, fine photo 🙂

  3. The first few B&W seems a little flat. The last three of the set have depth and intensity; Stil prefer the SOOC from Fuji.

    • I fail to see how the third one is flat with shadows like that…

      • If anything, these show the kind of control over shadow and highlight previously only really seen on Olympus and Fuji cameras. One of the fashions/dogmas of modern black and white photography, at the enthusiast level, seems to be excessive amounts of both.

        • I think the Nikon seems to handle it a bit more effortlessly than the Olympuses/Fujis – there’s at least two more stops of dynamic range to start with, which makes a world of difference at the highlight end. I like contrast too, but only with smooth transitions.

  4. I was forwarded this small set from a great photographer, a friend of mine, and i am intentionally pasting a monograph of his here, I’m like seeing you shooting the same back then ..

    I cannot believe these are OOC images, but then, i recall my results form the L1/14-50 and start believing ..

    Awesome set, some / most are certainly MOMA / exhibition work !

    Thank you,

  5. fafield says:

    The beginnings of a very interesting book of photographs. On my visits to Tokyo, I always come away with the impression that while a large and densely populated city, Tokyo is a city that actually works. Workers take pride in what they do (e.g., clean glass) and seem rightfully proud of their city. You’ve captured some of that in these images, Ming. Well done, as usual.

    • Actually, I’ve shot in Tokyo so much that I suspect with a little curation, the whole book is probably there already! I agree about it being one of the few places where people take pride in their work – sadly I can’t say the same about Kuala Lumpur…

  6. Verrerie et rêverie vont si bien ensemble !
    Bravissimo !!!

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