Photoessay: Architecture, digested

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I’ve always found Architectural Digest to be a slightly odd publication title; I realise it’s in the same condensed vein as Reader’s Digest in the sense of being a distilled essence of the things you probably want to know. To me, the word has always carried implications of something chewed up, softened and mushed into waste products. Certainly dimensionally collapsed, or in the process of being. Hence today’s long-period curation around the theme unearths and presents perspective-flattened, distilled architectural details; the kind of images that the PR department hates because they’re ‘too abstract’ and ‘not whole building’ but architects themselves love because the details they fought the client to keep actually get appreciated. I’m with the architects on this one – if they can distill the character of the building into one or two interesting vignettes, it ought to be worth highlight. MT

Shot over a long period of time with a wide variety of hardware; mostly processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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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 unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved


  1. Warning, this is a very presumptuous post on my part, that in no way is intended to be offensive: What I find interesting is the success you experience as an architectural photographer when the subject’s abstraction is reinforced by your photo’s composition or approach to taking the photo. While, for some, this may seem like being in the mind of the architect, it is also, many times, a somewhat serendipitous result (as regarded by the architect not the photographer) because the architect is unable to envision every position of the occupant/pedestrian or every facet of every detail of every hour of every day of every year of every weather event….in other words, the photos are sometimes, if not many times, more interesting than some of the buildings they represent because you are adding another layer of flattering interpretation or representation to the original. It really is how many of your photos are created, no? With your street images, I find the, as usual for your work, appear well thought out (so many if not all of your photos are beautifully and deliberately composed/timed) but result in images that appear to portray an instant, somewhat in counterpoint to the backdrop of architectural scenery. In other words, one type of photo reinforces literal architectural abstraction and another plays off that architecture to give a sense of how the buildings are used by or experienced by people…many times without their awareness. Both tend to flatter the content with a certain gloss or perfection that exists, but only for an instant. In some sense, they appear surreal and border on being contrived or overworked. But they aren’t supposed to be documentary and they step back from that line. You walk the edge, so to speak. Just an observation….on a very small sampling portion of your work over the years, which I have admired considerably…

    • I believe precisely this was discussed a while back – though architects probably try to envision most presentations of their work, sometimes serendipity and subsequent development of the surrounding environment change things quite a bit. You’re right that my interpretations are instantaneous – there’s no other real way to present the subject matter other than perhaps as an idealised form immediately after completion. When I add human life I try to give some context to the use of the environment; but once again even in that scenario I can only present the essence of what I observe during that period, which may or may not be representative of a longer term average.

  2. No 3 was one of those rare rare photos that made me sit up and say ‘wow, nice’.

    • Thanks!

    • I like #3, too. The last-but-one picture is something I would expect on the cover of a book, maybe a collection of articles or some academic work: it has the abstractness that editors presumably look for. Meanwhile, the red-brick architecture looks Mancunian, although I suppose it could be in one of many places in Britain. (The hydrant sign gives this away.)

      I am also intrigued by the brutalist concrete towers that look like a typical clumsy attempt at being futuristic. The prevalence of air conditioning units suggests somewhere warm, but such constructions have a habit of turning up almost anywhere.

  3. Stunning, Ming. Just stunning,

  4. Wow, impressive!

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