Ming Thein is no ordinary commercial photographer.
Photography is his genuine passion, and for it Thein quit as a senior executive at a multinational corporation.
Family and friends were shocked by Thein’s decision at first, worrying he was risking a promising future for nothing, but he thinks otherwise.
“I wasn’t happy or satisfied in my previous jobs,” Thein said.
“Nothing compares with a good picture I have taken, which I believe will make me happy for many years to come.”
Thein was born in Malaysia and identified as a child prodigy.
After his family emigrated to Australia, Thein completed his secondary education in New Zealand and was admitted to Oxford University, graduating in physics at the age of 16.
It was there that he fell in love with photography.
“At that time, I took photos for events and friends. They were crap, but they marked my starting point,” Thein recalled.
After leaving Oxford, he became an accountant at Big Four firm KPMG.
He took photos on his way to work or whenever possible, spending between HK$5,000 (US$645) and HK$6,000 a month on film alone.
Soon Thein graduated from being a novice to a professional photographer.
Meanwhile, he had a smooth path rising through the ranks in the business world, earning himself positions as a senior executive in finance, consultancy or management in multinational firms.
However, he always dreamed of becoming a full-time commercial photographer, and succeeded on his fourth attempt in 2012, with support from his friends and former clients.
At first, his family were doubtful about Thein’s decision.
After all, he was already a senior executive director of McDonalds in Malaysia, and they had high hopes that he would become the chief executive in five or 10 years.
“Perhaps this is the career goal many others would hope for,” Thein said.
“However, I didn’t want to stop right there, especially as I was not enjoying it. I wasn’t happy.”
He assured his family he could always go back to the business world if he didn’t make it again this time.
Thein’s wife, who works as a director of a hospital in Malaysia, is his biggest supporter.
“If you aren’t happy, I won’t be happy either,” she said.
She even promised she would support Thein and the family if necessary.
Thein did not disappoint her, and he is still touched when he recalls her words from time to time.
In photography, Thein regards himself largely as a “formalist” who loves patterns and structures, but he balances that with a sense of spontaneous motion and surprises that make his photos exciting.
Thein said he will deliberately put the faces of people out of focus in their portraits, as he doesn’t want anyone to be “defined” by the photos.
Thein wants portraits to be personal and impersonal. He considers taking a picture of a person’s face a kind of invasion that might ruin the relationship between the subject and the photographer if done in too direct a manner.
Thein has been invited by Derrick Pang Yat-bond, deputy chairman and executive director of Chun Wo Development Holdings Ltd., to create a documentary collection of photos celebrating the efforts and labors of construction workers.
The exhibition, Connection, is a charitable event that helps support children with disabilities and families who have lost their loved ones to accidents on construction sites.
This exhibition has taken Thein almost a year to put together.
As a Malaysian, he finds Hong Kong’s weather unbearably humid and stuffy in summer, yet the workers continue to work no matter what the weather is.
Thein considers construction workers the anonymous heroes behind Hong Kong’s stunning high-rise buildings.
He finds the city the ideal place for photography, as there are many things happening all the time.
Countless skyscrapers reflect the sun’s rays against each other during the day. Meanwhile, traditional shops and buildings survive in their shadow.
“I always discover something new in Hong Kong,” Thein said enthusiastically.
When asked how he would compare his career as a commercial photographer to his previous high-profile executive positions, Thein said he used to work 80 to 90 hours every week and felt that nothing could be worse than that.
However, he said, he was wrong, as he has not taken a single day off work since 2012.
He admitted that he needs to take a good break to take better care of his dear wife and his newborn daughter.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 18.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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