Photoessay: Mori

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Welcome to one of the most surreal manmade places you can imagine, in Tokyo, or anywhere (which is saying something): The Mori Digital Art Museum, on Odaiba out in Tokyo Bay. Covering a huge area inside a blackened warehouse hung from floor to ceiling with a velvety material that can be projected on, the entire exhibition is dynamic. Projectors seamlessly cover walls and sometimes floors, combined with motion sensors to interact with the audience to create a very strange simulacrum of nature. It’s almost like stepping into Avatar; the extent of the simulation is so complete you feel very disoriented in some parts (especially those were the floor itself is no longer flat). There are tactile areas (like the giant balloons, or projection lilypads) for the kids, and enough rooms and dynamism that you don’t suffer from deja vu even if you revisit the same location twice (which you inevitably will, because signage is kept to a minimum). To shoot – it’s something else, because you’re basically trying to photograph a highly contrasty and saturated projection across multiple surfaces. And because the images are dynamic – sometimes with serious speed – composition is challenging indeed. It’s also not as bright as it looks, so you’re landing up at very high ISOs to keep the projected images crisp and deal with light levels. Though the environment looks three dimensional, it isn’t; though the other people visiting are three dimensional, they collapse to two dimensional silhouettes because they are nowhere near as bright; in short: the whole thing is surreal. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and processed with Photoshop Workflow III – I tried using my custom Z7 Picture Control profiles, but they were off base in this strange edge case situation…

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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. Derrick Pang says:

    Ming, wonderful photos. I was there in March. I love it. My wife hated it. She thought the visuals were too stimulating for her. She felt dizzy. Wonderful photos again.

    • Haha, thanks. Yes, some bits definitely made me a bit dizzy – especially in sections with lower lighting and where you can’t see the confines of the ‘regular’ room – you have no way to orient yourself…

  2. Ming, this is a really great set of photos. The exhibition must have really inspired you!

    • Thanks. Actually, it was equal parts inspiration and frustration – half the time you want to do something different but the environment is so two dimensional and flat (for the projection to work) that you can’t; you’re somewhat restricted by the content, but at the same time – that content and environment is so different that it’s hard not to make something interesting. Making something that isn’t like the rest of the images that come out of there…well, that’s another challenge entirely 🙂

  3. Lothar Adler says:

    I’m relating to low light and high ISO …. Currently I got aware of the existence of DxO Photo Lab2 and their PRIME noise reducer. I read from various users that this NR is unsurpassed qualitywise, especially with high ISO files from smaller sensors, i.e. m4/3. Do you have experience with the PRIME NR?

  4. Wow. Surreal is a term that is sometimes overused, but it perfectly describes this place. I think I’ll have to visit next week when I’m in Tokyo.

    • Thanks! The entrance is not exactly obvious, but it’s easier if you go from the Tokyo Mega Web (Toyota museum thing) side…

  5. Such a spectacular museum, I’d love to visit one day. And you are so right — it does look like Avatar! Stunning photos!

  6. Thank you for sharing this amazing place and experience through your lens! Really fascinating post to read and view.

  7. Every image I’ve ever seen of this place is amazing! I hope to have the chance to visit it one day!

  8. Love the photos! The place must be so interesting. I wish I was living nearby to visit the place with my camera….

  9. To me, teamlab’s offerings are a desperate attempt to make museums relevant to the Instagram generation. Young people go there take a few photos of aesthetic pictures of led lights. These exhibits pander to attention seeking teenagers and lack real substance instead of showcasing thought provoking art. I think the mori art museum at roppongi does a better job of being a museum than this.

    • Actually, I think it’s the expectation that comes from using the word ‘museum’ – the space is a showcase of work; the work is different, and subject to interpretation. As with all art, the worst fate is to be indifferent – love and hate being on the opposite sides of emotion.

      Ironically, it doesn’t actually photograph very well given low light and mostly 2D surfaces…

  10. Kristian Wannebo says:

    A very interesting place, and I can imagine that it might be made into a very weird, or beautiful, place!

    Many lovely photos!

    And Ming, I wholly agree with Jean Pierre’s comments on your blog (I just wouldn’t have found the words) !

  11. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I see you’ve gone with the Z7. Another friend of mine has, and he’d only a short time earlier bought his D850 and raved about that, too. It does seem that Nikon have gone to quite some lengths to “get it right”, with the Z7. Unfortunately I have too much cash invested in my existing range of lenses, and unless you’re prepared to go the full distance it seems unlikely that you can get the best out of the Z7 or its companion. The adapter was a nice try – but that doesn’t “solve” the problem of attaching a lens that makes full use of the larger mount on these cameras.
    Anyway, I am not just “content” with my D500 & D850 – I’m totally absorbed in the quality of the images they produce.
    Which quite frankly is much the same as opening another one of your posts, or Robin’s, on your blog. The quality of your images is always amazing. And this post is no exception.
    And the subject matter is so unusual that there’s no real issue with other people wandering through the various exhibits. Obviously you take care to choose a moment when they enhance the image, rather than detract from it (which is often a problem, when you are confronted with a plethora of tourists). Your posts are a bit like sampling a fine wine – you start by looking at it, in the glass – swirl it around a little – test the bouquet – take a small sip, and sample that – then a little more – till finally you drink the whole glass, and put it down – still having a final look, and thinking how much you appreciate it and why.
    Also, the sharing – sometimes it’s the idea – the destination or subject matter – sometimes it’s the gear – sometimes it’s technical information. You bring to the world of photographers an enormous amount – and give of your time and knowledge on an extraordinary basis.
    In short – I love this blog, and look forward to every posting. (I also look backward – the archives are a treasure trove!)

    • They got it right with both of them. The D850 was a no-brainer since there were significant improvements across the board from the D810, and that was already one of my commercial workhorses; it’s long since paid for itself. The Z7’s IBIS expands the shooting envelope even more, to the point that under real conditions you’re probably going to get a better image out of the Z7 than 50MP MF once the light starts getting low – as it did here. I could not have produced these without a tripod had I been using anything else except perhaps M4/3 and f1.2 lenses.

      Thanks for the compliments. Just as with wine…there is inevitably a long ageing process for the images, and what I post now was usually shot at least several months (or more) ago. It needs sitting time, blending time, maturation. I’m sometimes afraid to venture into the archives as we always think with hindsight we can do better… 🙂

  12. superbes photos !!!

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