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5 unique souvenir gifts from Vietnam

Finding something different and unique is a challenge. Mass production, cheap materials and reused ideas you find everywhere. Living in Vietnam since 2000, I have seen the progress and changes to the country over the years. I still believe Vietnam can do a better job promoting its beauty and I wanted to contribute with what I know best. That is photography.

Photographers tend to publish books and postcards. My graphic design background has always made me think in different ways. I always liked lacquer as a craft. There is something about handmade process that adds a difference to a product. It is not just stamped out from a machine in the hundreds, it is actually crafted by hand.

I started experimenting with the ancient lacquer making technique and modern print technology. From that our photographic lacquer coaster sets were born.

1. Lacquer coaster sets

O&M Coaster Set

Photographed with an old vintage Kodak camera, the Kodak Duaflex II. From the 1950’s, this camera brings a distinct style to the images. Printed on hand plated silver base, then several rounds with lacquer coating, also done by hand.

Each coaster set is handmade and unique. From O&M.

 

From printing on hand plated silver to fabric. Pillows were the next step. Featuring motifs from around Vietnam, these pillows make the perfect present:

2. Decorative pillows with photographic print 

O&M Decorative Pillow

It has never been easier to ship a slice of Vietnamese heritage to your living room. As seen above, a set of Vietnamese water puppet dolls photographed in the ancient city of Hoi An. Each tote bag gets produced on demand and assembled by hand before shipping. From O&M Collection Store.

 

Then we applied the printing techniques to t-shirts. A full print t-shirt is wearable art. Truly different.

3. T-shirts with sublimation prints, full coverage

O&M T-shirt

Anyone walking the streets of Saigon have seen the cable and wire madness. Standing at most street corners, it is easy to spot the cable monsters above. Printed on both sides, these t-shirts take you straight into the cable jungle. Each pillow case gets produced on demand and assembled by hand before shipping. From O&M Collection Store.

 

Expanding our option with wearable art, we started a tote bag range. Simple, elegant and functional. Different photographs for different occasions. Below is one of our favourites.

4. Tote bags with French cement tiles patterns 

O&M Tote Bag

The French brought with them their cement tiles making techniques. You can walk on their heritage throughout Vietnam. These tile patterns I found deep in the Mekong, at one of the eldest Khmer pagodas. A variety of patterns cover the floor and I documented most of them. Any trip you take around Vietnam will reward you with photographic opportunities. Vietnam is indeed a hidden charm. You need to seek out in order to find. From O&M’s Collection Store.

 

We also offer the traditional photographic print. Wearable only for walls, they do add character to where ever they hang on display. For other size, please get in touch.

5. Framed poster prints shipped to your doorstep

O&M Square Poster Print

An affordable alternative to our silver plated lacquer prints and silver plated canvas prints. Each poster prints on Epson Ultra Premium Luster Photo Paper. 

​A detail from one of the stunning rooftops seen in Hue city. The emblems are unique for the area and I have only spotted them outside of Hue at Hue restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. From O&M’s Collection Store.

 

Want to know about new releases? Sign up for our Newsletter at the O&M Collection Store website or follow our Business Page on Facebook. We release new products on a regular basis. 

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Design

The former colleague and now inventor

‘I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.’

Ms Ngoc Hanh and I met for the first time at Sun Flower Media company where we both were art directors for different publications. Fast forward and we are both on different paths and still share the same ambition. To see our creations blossom.

Ms Ngoc Hanh founded Mimimi.com.vn and she sells a product to help you clean your helmet without damaging the washing machine.

She wanted to have a quick and effective way to clean helmets and they are now available for sale online.

The English version can be found here: http://mimimi.com.vn/en/

Mimimi_Web

Please take a look if this is of interest. Product pictures were done in our studio and for those of you that follow our blog, please take a look at our new, main portfolio website at www.madsmonsen.com as we finally updated our site. For our lacquerware and custom lacquer orders, please visit oanhmadsvn.com

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Design, Photography, Recommended

Souvenirs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and what to buy as a memento

SGN by SMM – Matrix Colour, coaster set in lacquer.

SGN by SMM – Matrix Colour, coaster set in lacquer.

Traveling to the Far East. The sentence has a magical sound to it. The magic spell can either come apart or be carried on. It all comes down to choices we make. Observing. Reflecting. Participating. When I travel I like to take breaks by the roadside and sit and watch the world go by. The size of that world is in a direct relationship to the size of the town I am visiting. Needless to say, a small road stall in the middle of an unpaved country lane brings a few people passing by within an hour or two. More people pass by your eyes in less than 30 seconds in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

On my travels around Vietnam I made an observation regarding the markets, in particular the souvenirs stalls. They were all selling more or less the same products. It presented a challenge as I have a traveling habit. I like to purchase something that I believe to be unique to the place I am visiting, or something that represents that place. I collect mementos. I also capture what I see with my camera. I behave as an average tourist.

Then I had an idea. That was one and a half year ago. I set out to produce my own souvenirs, my own mementos, to share with fellow travellers that wish for something different. Last month that idea became a real product available to purchase at selected stores in Ho Chi Minh City. The product is photographic lacquerware. Vietnam is famous for its lacquerware and I combine the traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship of lacquer making with photography. A modern souvenir gift wrapped in the old traditions of lacquerware. Handmade in Vietnam.

I truly recommend you to take a look at it at a nearby store. The product images do not do them justice as the colours are richer than they appear on the images. Each item has a base layer of silver foil and we print the image on top of the silver base. Then the lacquer coatings are applied by hand. The whole process takes up to six weeks from start to finished product.

Currently, we have a dining set range and a small coaster set range available for purchase. Images of the products are available online at our webstore or you can see the products on display at our selected retail partners in Ho Chi Minh City. For international shipping we can handle that through the webstore. For direct purchases, please visit one of the retailers or inquire with us directly if the store is out of stock.

Our products are stocked by Ginkgo Concept Store, 254 De Tham Street, District 1, HCMC and Studio Co, 4 Le Van Mien, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC. For a full list of authorized retailers, please visit our lacquerware website as it took less than a month after we launched for copycat products to surface in the local market.

Promo_small_set

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Photography, Review

Fashion Creation – From idea to final show

The street lights glowed in the dark as the light drizzle added a soft shine to the road leading up to Gala Royal. It was early evening, June 20th 2013, and the TK09 students from Hoa Sen’s first bachelor program of Fashion Design  were about to start their graduation show “Fashion Creation”.

Inside, guests were filling up the seats, photographers assembling their gears and video tripods marked the press pit area. Models walked past, en route to back stage changing area while designers could be spotted across the room due to their serious faces. Tension was in the air. The rest of the crowd was at ease, smiling, reading the program and conducting small talk.

It was as any other fashion show, except to the designers involved, this did not feel like any other show, this was their show and it showed. From the serious faces before start, then the anxious looks when their models braved the catwalk, to the joy and sheer happiness when they walked the catwalk themselves, receiving applause for their efforts. Online, likes were being racked up on the various walls as proud parents and friends had already broadcasted the event to their Facebook streams.

A milestone, one of many more to come, had been achieved this evening and for that I would say it was a successful event. They had shipped their products and delivered. They had gone through with their ideas and visualised them. It takes a lot of hand work and dedication to bring ideas to life, however, no matter the hardship, the smiles of joy that evening made it all worth it. It felt great to witness it from front row.

Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation

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Design, Photography

The ice cream store and why a combo is better than a single strike

Advertising for Nia Bella ice cream store. Photography & design by Studio MadsMonsen.

A combo is better than a single strike. I realised that when playing karate kid arcade games. The combo move was always better than the single kick or punch. Advertising agencies often have an art director/copy writer team. A killer combo of visuals and words. They realise that the team can be more creative than an individual.

Starting out as an apprentice, I realised the perception amongst my peers was to get a “proper” photography degree if you wanted to succeed as a commercial photographer. An apprenticeship was ranked lower. When I started on a photography degree course, I realised that I would spend my time and money on something I already knew very well. I still remember my evaluation meeting with the head of photography department where I raised my concerns and realised that the only thing they had taught me was a split toning technique for black and white printing. I realised that I was in the wrong place.

I asked my graphic design tutor, as we had a weekly two hour graphic design class as part of the course, which school she would recommend for me to apply to, as graphic design was something new and it had caught my interest. I received a list of names, some I heard of, some I hadn’t. Then I asked about a school that I had a friend of mine attending. She looked at me and then told me flatly to forget about that one, I would never get accepted there, it was out of my league.

I could have listened to her, but then I would not be where I am today. I realised that nothing is impossible if you really want to achieve it. I managed to arrange a meeting with the other school. I was given a chance. I got accepted. I still remember the expression of her face when I told her that I got accepted at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design. Gobsmacked is an understatement.

Graphic design and photography. That is a good combination. I am grateful that I ended up with what Isaiah Brookshire calls a +1 skills combo.

Those skills are handy when your business partner propose that you invest and start up an ice cream brand.

Naming a business is similar to naming a child. Being a parent I already know how time consuming that process can be. On the other hand, a very tight deadline puts the brain in creative hyper drive and delivers faster than mother nature. Thus, Nia Bella was born. Prematurely? Maybe, born nonetheless and screaming for a logo. Time for a coffee break. Armed with a Artline pen and a drawing pad, various options were tested and discarded until one was deemed worthy of exploring.

Concept drawing. Giving a gift and cartoon cuteness galore.

Concept drawing. Deciding on shape, working on element options.

Concept drawing. Final route to explore further.

Only when I had a direction worth exploring, it was time to put to use an iPad application that another graphic designer introduced me to, Paper.  I realised that it eased up the colour exploration and design process tremendously. Once the overall look and feel of the logo had been achieved I could email myself the result.

Paper in action.

Only then it was time to start Illustrator and do a refined vector version as seen implemented on the business card image.

Nia Bella business card.

Now it’s time to enjoy a scoop of ice cream, that I just realised. As our slogan says: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

 

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Photography

A New Year needs a New Calendar…

…And what would be more fitting for this blog than to introduce the jewellery calendar we photographed for CAO Fine Jewellery before year’s end. Off to a flying start with the butterfly necklace, my favourite from the session.

The butterfly necklace from CAO Fine Jewellery.

Here’s a view of the calendar and below more samples from the year to come. Enjoy!

CAO Fine Jewellery's calendar 2011.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

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Photography

The bokeh experiment

View from Thu Thiem bridge of Ho Chi Minh City's District 1

Experimentation is vital. It is good. Sometimes it works the way we want. Sometimes not. Nevertheless, we did it. To do is success in itself.

The image seen above was taken from Thu Thiem bridge overlooking District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as most residents prefer.

It is a long exposure, camera on tripod, manual focus and open aperture. What differs is the details in the bokeh, revealing the numbers 1010.

It was an experiment. Shot on spec. The potential client did not like it. Some will consider that a fail. We call it a successful experiment. We went out to achieve a certain effect and returned with a capture containing that effect. Goal achieved. Simple as that.

We did this for us and if we could sell it along to others it would be an added bonus. The important fact is to go out and do what you set out to do. It is a good way to grow. To get out of the comfort zone. Need help to motivate? Make a New Year’s resolution now.

The effect above is relatively easy to achieve. First you decide on what you want to have projected. We wanted numbers. Number 1010. Our lens has a 77mm filter dimension. We created a 80mm template in illustrator.

80mm template. Typefaces used, from top to bottom: Gill Sans, Bauhaus and Snell Roundhand.

Decided on three different typefaces and two different options. Six masks. Printed out on a standard A4 paper, spray mounted on black cardboard. Then cut out the white lettering. Placed mask in front of the camera lens while shooting and voila, you have got you own customised bokeh.

Experimentation is fun. It is good. It is also good practice. “Designed by accident” from Johnson Banks is a worthwhile read and while you are at it:

“…Experimental design is a planned interference in the natural order of events by the researcher. He does something more than carefully observe what is occurring. This emphasis on experiment reflects the higher regard generally given to information so derived. There is good rationale for this. Much of the substantial gain in knowledge in all sciences has come from actively manipulating or interfering with the stream of events…”

“The Basics of  Experimental Design” by Sid Sytsma and hosted by R.M.Mottola

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Photography

“Every journey starts with a single step.” – Lao Tze

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

It is one of my favorite quotes. It sounds really simple, but sometimes taking the first step is the toughest thing you do. Once you made the decision, it is easier because you are already moving forward. The image above is from Florence or as the Italian says, Firenze. A beautiful city. I went there together with the first year students at KIAD a month before I transferred to Saint Martin’s. It was part of the program. A tour abroad, rich in culture and photo opportunities.

Hillside, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

I remember we had at least two days to explore for ourselves. The first day I left all my gear at the hotel, and started walking. Walking and observing the whole day. Noticed how the sun moved during day and made mental notes on how I should do my shoot route. The following day I got up early, backpack with gear and tripod in hand and set off to capture. I spent the whole day photographing and came back with quite a few shots. By taking the time to prepare and pre-visualise I could be more efficient the following day. As the boy scouts say: “Always prepared.”

Walking, New York.

Sometimes, you don’t have time to pre-visualise, you act on instinct. While in New York I saw a man walking in front of me and I had my pocket Yashica T4 with me and got it out and captured the above and below shots.

Walking, New York.

“The harder I work, the luckier.” – Samuel Goldwyn

That is another quote I have taken to as well. I remember from my apprentice days that “Get it right in camera” and “Take pride in your craft”. Photography is part art and part craft.
I stick by the words and it pays off.

This week my assistant and I spent a whole day photographing furniture sets. A new client. They chose us because of the quality of our portfolio despite we were higher in cost. It is good to have clients that see and appreciate the difference.

Another new client called and confirmed that our test session had gone through. We passed the test.
They wanted quality and we delivered.

Have to keep up the hard work and have more luck, that’s for sure.

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Photography, Recommended

Scandinavian design from the shores of Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

Asia, the heart of manufacturing these days. Ideas can be created anywhere, however, when the ideas are about to be realized and manufactured, then Asia is the place to be. One of my clients, Fronterra, have their designers in Scandinavia, or more precisely, Denmark. The Norwegians and the Danes have a good relationship. Denmark is still a popular holiday destination for Norwegians.

I remember from my childhood days we would get up early in the morning, load the car with suitcases and snacks and hit the road. From Bergen to Oslo and then the ferry to Frederikshavn or the other route to Kristiansand and the ferry to Hirtshals. Either way, we got to see the countryside and pass over the mountain range, have a ferry ride and then entering the almost flat country with the famous red hot dogs. We would visit Fårup Sommerland and of course, being an avid lego builder, Legoland itself, in Billund. Even my firstname is Danish. According to the family history, relatives on my father side emigrated from Denmark to Norway roughly 200 years ago and kept the tradition of naming the firstborn son Mads.

The Norwegian language Bokmål, is based on the Danish language and is commonly used in the south and in particular the larger cities while NyNorsk, the second official language, is used elsewhere in the country. All official communication is printed in both Bokmål and NyNorsk. Total population of around 4,5 million people. Feels like there are more motorbikes on the streets of Saigon than there are Norwegians in this world.

Finally, some more samples of their products that we have photographed for them here in Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

Fronterra furniture design photographed by Studio MadsMonsen in Vietnam.

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Photography, Recommended

“Puppets that dance on water” – Múa rối nước

Showtime. Or so we hope. At the ticket counter they wouldn’t sell us tickets, instead they told us to take a seat and wait in hope. Hope that more than ten souls were willing to spend half an hour to watch an art form that dates all the way back to the 11th century. Welcome to the world of water puppetry in 2010.

We were lucky. More than ten arrived and we were asked to purchase tickets. Around 50.000 VND for an adult and a child ticket. Finally show time.

It is worth seeing. Period. If you have children and live in Vietnam it is worth seeing more than once. First time I went with Tian was on an outing arranged by the kindergarten and he loved it. We sat at the back as he was still a bit skeptical to the puppets. However, the second visit it was front row and the show is still as mesmerizing as the first time.

Water puppet show.

The quick summary: Water sprouting dragons turning on their fire and smoke, farmers protecting their ducks only to fail, children swimming and performing acrobatics and men and women catching fish the hard way.

Water puppet show.

Water puppet show.

Water puppet show.

Splashing water, the screams from children when hit by water droplets and the traditional music pouring over the loudspeaker system interspersed with laughter make the 30 minutes experience seem like only 5.

Afterwards you have the option of touring the museum, enjoy drinks or ice cream at Ozo or venture further into Saigon Zoo next door.

Water puppet show.

Address:

The Historical museum, 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Next to Saigon Zoo)

They do morning and afternoon shows. We went in the afternoon. 2pm, 3pm or 4pm.

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Photography

“What does your online image say about you?”

Self. Myself. My self image. My image. Image. Click. One click, that was it. One exposure. He checked to see if I blinked or not. Five minutes he said. Five minutes passed, money passed, images passed. I had four, scissor cut, standard passport size, identical images of myself. It was quick, it was cheap and it’s analogue. Printouts in a digital era. I need to make them digital again to upload.

What am I doing? I wanted to see what added value I bring to my customers who come for portraits. Conducting research. I cannot offer the same price, it is unbeatable at 20,000 VND, more or less one US dollar. However, I offer choice and the selected image(s) will be retouched and delivered as a digital file, not as an analogue printout that has to be either scanned or photographed again.

This is it. This is what I got. I had to put on my macro lens and photograph the printout. I would more or less get similar quality if I had it scanned.

Passport portrait done at the local photo studio

Ansel Adams zone system consists of ten zones. From pure black to pure white. Analogue film cannot capture all the levels, hence the expression “Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights.” Let’s be generous and say that film can capture a tonal range of seven zones. Taking the negative and print it would reduce the tonal range to around five zones. Each reproductive step would reduce the quality. Enter digital photography. Every year, the camera sensors improve in quality. Having access to the RAW digital file gives you the best starting point, and after converting and retouching, you have a far more superior image, technically speaking.

If I had access to the digital image file, I could probably adjust the image a bit, but for 20,000 VND you don’t get access to that. You get your four, scissor cut images. That’s it.

Looking at the result, I feel I am looking at a “Wanted” poster. Would I change my current image on my various social networking sites or is the new image not really new and improved?

How about this one?

Portrait done at my own studio

This was taken the same day, a few hours later. For comparison, a similar head shot. Technically superior. It took a bit longer to set up as the studio is never “pre-set” for anything. Studio rule, once your session is done, everything goes back in place. Prevents you from being “lazy” and develop habits. Always think how you can work with your light. Always easier when you have an empty studio.

In my apprentice days, I heard stories from other apprentices working in the portrait business that you could encounter studios where the equipment did not move. Marks on the floor for where you should stand. Marks for where the tripod should be. Flash units already dialled in. Some even said that the aperture and focus ring were taped!

In my case, the studio I went to in my neighbourhood had the flash units already set up and dialled in. Chair in place. All I had to do was to sit down and not move. A very efficient workflow. Only five minutes. Also a very predictable outcome.

Sometimes, predictable can be good, other times not.

How about this headshot?

Portrait sample, No 1

I don’t think it would be achievable on a 20,000 VND budget. It marks a difference. It also says something about the person. About how he wants to be perceived. You can only make a first impression once.

Another sample, still with suit, but a different mood. A different light setup as well.

Portrait sample, No 2

Last sample and again a different light setup, creating another mood.

Portrait sample, No 3

Studio cleared. Ready for next. Will never follow Henry Ford and make a production line and standardise light setups. Otherwise, I will have to charge 18,000 VND and deliver in four minutes in order to compete.

Last, but not least, here’s an online guide on what NOT to do.

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