ho chi minh city


The Saigon Zoo shoot out

Photographer Yves and Model Maissa

Maissa contacted me some time ago. She hoped we could do a photo shoot together. I contacted a photographer friend of mine. I hoped we could do a shoot together. In the end, we managed to arrange both time and place.

A previous used location, the Saigon Zoo. The challenge is to come up with something new, something different to what I had done there before. To get the creative juices flowing, a friendly “competition” goes a long way. Yves and I swapped places and roles for each location, jumping back and forth from being assistant to being photographer and always keeping a friendly banter. Two photographers, same location, same model and two different sets of images produced. All done within a few morning hours. Plus some coffee time afterwards. It is always nice to be able to catch up over a cup of coffee.

Here is what I managed to shoot, enjoy:

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

Model Maissa at Saigon Zoo

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Styling with JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Parallel with the fashion shoot for JnG Couture, we did another shoot that JnG Couture styled, enjoy:

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

Styling by JnG Couture

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Collaboration with JnG Couture – Part II

JnG Couture – Part II

As before, we went on location, but instead of outdoor, it was indoor. Only one piece to shoot, so a few samples of different crops. Enjoy:)

JnG Couture – Part II

JnG Couture – Part II

JnG Couture – Part II

JnG Couture – Part II

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A half day at the park – The wedding photography assignment

David & Mai's Wedding

Love knows no borders. David and Mai met in Australia where they live. David is Vietnamese, Mai is Japanese and they wanted to do their wedding pictures in Vietnam together with their families. Mai had happened to see our work and liked it enough to contact us for the occasion. It is always great to hear people wanting to work with you because they like your work. It is simply the best compliment possible.

David and Mai wanted an outdoor shoot and we organised permits for one of the local parks and started early as the day soon gets hot and the light gets harsher. By the time we finished, the rain clouds had gathered and gave us a heavy shower as we drove back. Here is the result from the session, enjoy:

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

David & Mai's Wedding

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Collaboration with JnG Couture in Saigon, Vietnam

Working with passionate people is always good and you finish with your energy levels boosted and a wish to push things further and further. Meeting John will give you that experience, he brings fresh flavour to anyone he works with and it is always a pleasure to collaborate with him. Here are samples from two sessions that we did together, one location and one studio.

For the location, we turned his hotel room into make-up and changing room for the two models and then started the short walk down to Ben Thanh market By the time we had set up light and started shooting, we had already gathered quite a crowd that followed us throughout the whole session. Turning quite a few heads.

In front of Ben Thanh Market.

Inside by the meat section of Ben Thanh Market.


Close up image.

John and Isabelle Du.


Second session took place in the studio, John styled the various outfits and we decided on doing jumps, to capture the energy flowing. The model was a good sport and had to do quite a few jumps before we were done. Easier to work inside with the air conditioner running and then montage the sunny outdoor scene in place in post production.

Our male model.

Getting the right jump and expression.

Different style.

Transferred to outdoor.

To see more of John’s work look here and to see an interview, click here.

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Walkabout with Ian – Part II

The amount of images we managed to capture within a few hours walk manifested themselves by the amount of hours spent editing the selection. Culling images and trying out various moods and tones and continue culling versions that did not work. A recent article I read and shared on Twitter, regarding why you can’t hack photography, couldn’t be clearer than this. There is no perfect image button to push. You have a wide option available in the digital darkroom and your personal taste.

Yes, it is easy to spend hours in front of the screen, but think about it this way. With analogue, film based photography, you had to plan your shots. You selected your film batch or went medium format so you could change film backs and shoot b/w, colour negative and slide film all at the same time. Based on your film choices, you chose your developing processes accordingly. Once you had negatives, you had further choices of paper stock and film developers as well as your arsenal of “secret trade tricks” picked up from other darkroom artists.

All of this amounted to immense amount of time and a fair amount of money as you worked with physical items. Fast forward to spending electricity and endless opportunities to experiment where failure indeed is never an option as you can always undo. Try undoing burning your negative to create a cool effect and realise that you burnt too much. Or Polaroid transfers that you could never really duplicate as each transfer was done by hand and never 100% the same. Digital has made experimentation easier, but as they teach when learning computer programming: “Input garbage=Output garbage.”

I ended up using a vintage tone and mood on many of the images and some of the images in the previous blog post have been reprocessed and toned accordingly. I also added more images from the pagodas that we visited. Pagodas are such an interesting place with endless photographic opportunities.


Reprocessed version of the soon to be demolished flats.

"Dancing rats of paint"

The fish market stall reprocessed.

Entering the Pagoda.

Book guardian.

Book guardian.

Hanging incense.

Pagoda detail.

Pagoda detail.

Close up.

The thousand hands.


Detail of ornaments.

Incense detail.

Prayer time.

Detail of joss sticks/incense.

Burning incense.


Light my fire.

Passing the joss stick.

Super hero me.



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Walkabout with Ian

Ian leading the way through the market.

Ian is a photographer and I have had the pleasure of getting to know him as a friend. His work around Vietnam is stunning and worthwhile browsing as you can see here, and his blog here.

Previously, we had a gear talk and he suggested that I should come along for a quick walkabout and test the Nikon 24-70 lens to see how incredible it was. So I did. We met up and had a great time, so much that we have done another walkabout and probably many more to come in the future. I also bought the lens, traded in my old 17-55 dx for the new 24-70 fx and have been happy ever after as they say. The lens is incredible. (No, I am not endorsed by Nikon, however, I wouldn’t  mind if they ever approached.) Here are some samples from our trip. I will split it over several blog posts as there are quite a few images that I want to showcase.

Ian is a brilliant tour guide. We started off with a cup of coffee before heading for the streets, having a stop over at a pagoda, then the local street market, followed by a visit to a residential block that will soon be demolished, before entering the tiny alleyways where even two motorbikes cannot pass each other and finally walking back to where we started for another refreshing coffee. A great way to start the day. Enjoy the images!

Portable street stall.

Faded gym signage.


Portable food stall.

Detail of food stall.

Some stalls come equipped with their own worship gods.

Paying respect at the pagoda.

The street market.

The street market.

The street market.

The street market.

The street market.

Adverts for new apartments at the soon to be demolished apartment block.

Residents cleaning out.

Shaving station.

Breakfast consumed and dishes waiting to be picked up by the local delivery service.

Clothes wash line.


Cock fights are still popular.

Cock fights are still popular.

Even in afterlife, Euro's are needed.

The narrow alleyways.

The narrow alleyways.

Big thank you Mr Ian, it was truly a great day, yay!


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The Swiss connection

Swiss flag.

Ms Gillian Le, from my previous blog post, got in touch with me again. She had moved onwards to a new position and wanted to share the good news. I was invited for a tour of her new work place, The German International School in Saigon, GIS.

257 Hoang Van Thu Street. The street sounded familiar. I have been traveling on this road more times than I can recall. I also couldn’t recall ever seeing a German school along the way. I set out and started counting until I reached 257, a long wall opposite a park near the airport, aptly named Hoang Van Thu Park.

A school insignia and passed a guarded entrance and there I was, entering a different place, or so it felt. Coming just off one of the busiest streets I walked down a lane, almost like a country lane and headed towards a villa from a distant time and the traffic roar fading as my steps took me closer. A full-sized green grassed football pitch, newly cut, on my right hand side. Greeting signs on my left.

The villa that is the German International School, photographs well in black and white and with a hint of sepia tone. It fits its image. The staircase inside as well. Its sleek lines make a beautiful composition. No wonder Ms Gillian wanted me to have a look. In a city that is constantly re-inventing its skyline with newer buildings and designs, it is rare to be able to access some of the older ones.

The German International School, view from courtyard.

Courtyard in use.


I arrived at nap time. I never quite understand how children can get into sleeping positions like this one.

Nap time.

During my tour, a recurring thought hits me again and again. This doesn’t feel like a school, this feels like a house. Indeed it is, it is still a small community and very much an extended family for German speaking nationalities.

Welcome to the classroom.

One, Two and Three.

The school cap.

Even the hallways are filled with painted murals and the large windows are a photographers best friend.

Butterfly as part of the mural.


Outside again, I notice the ceramic pigs with the the German word “Willkommen” , “Welcome” in English, “Velkommen” in Norwegian and it is true, it is a very welcoming place.


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To the Skydeck we go

View from the Skydeck, Saigon Centre centred.

Family visit. Always a joy. This time I got to spend more time than last with them. It was good. We are all changing and getting older. I am a dad myself now. Almost halfway in life. How did that happen?

To the Skydeck we went. To get a view of the city. Going from the small to the big picture. The overview. Saigon can feel like a small town, especially within District 1, even though it keeps changing all the time. It’s in the culture. Even at the wedding party the bride will do four to five clothes changes in the evening. The groom will be getting hammered. The bride not, as she will do the tally afterwards, counting the monetary gifts.

Sunset from the Skydeck.

Change is constant. Change is a challenge. I have been up here before. I am seeing the same angles. I am looking for something that I have not seen before. Not counting the gift shop with the low quality garments and steep prices. Even the store across the street has a better garment for a third of the price. Not counting the wedding photography studio that has purchased a proper telescope and shows us the solar flares on a flat screen.

Sunset in black and white sepia tone.

Refusing to see the world for what it is I turn it upside down. My newfound angle.

The world upside down.

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A random day in Saigon – A walkabout downtown

Sometimes a wander can create wonders. Enjoy the result of less than 2 hours walking about on a random day.

Notre Dame.

Statue in front of Notre Dame.

Post office.

Mobile bike repair centre.



Key store.

Banh Bao store.



The collector.

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Nothing endures but change – Heraclitus

The machines.

A year ago I went passed houses and green fields where I now find dirt, water and machines. More images from the changing landscape of Thu Thiem, District 2.

Clearing for the new city district.

The machines are ready.

All that remains, the gate.

Man versus progress. Catching the last catch.

Road sign for one of the local pagodas. Soon they will be gone too.

The road to the pagoda.

Old houses knocked down. Recent high rises in the background.

The mobile petrol station will be on the move soon.

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Along Saigon river

Blue sky. Perfect light. Time to experiment.

Deep blue sky.

Saigon skyline in blue.

Panorama in blue.

Along the riverside.

The waterway.

Red and blue.

Black & White.

Sepia tone.

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“Burning down the house” & the reimbursements

Remains from the house.


Hold tight wait till the party’s over

Hold tight We’re in for nasty weather

There has got to be a way

Burning down the house

Talking Heads 


Thu Thiem area in District 2 is undergoing a massive change and over 12000 households have been relocated according to this source.

“A new urban, financial services and commercial hub connecting the city” according to this one.

“Thu Thiem compensation bogged down” reports another.

For every action there is a re-action. The effects of the transformation are growing more evident. Houses that were selling goods and offering services are no longer there. Even minor pagodas are knocked down. Making way for progress. Locations that I photographed in less than a year ago are no longer existing except as a digital memory of something that once was.

All that's left...

Only the house alter was not completely destroyed.

The gate remains as well as the alter.

Empty shell.

Marking up the area for development with Saigon's skyline in the background.

As an oasis waiting to be conquered.

As an oasis waiting to be conquered. Version II


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On the road to Cu Chi and the hidden sights of the countryside

I had sat aside time for another day trip. Planning to go to Tay Ninh, however, I had to cut my trip short and keep it within half a day.

A half day doesn’t sound a lot. Only a couple of hours. If you live in London, less than two and half hours will take you to Paris by the Eurostar. I cannot claim to have crossed into another country during my little excursion, I did feel I crossed into another world.

For those of you that arrive to Saigon for the first time, you will be surprised of the modern cityscape, the number of luxury stores and not to mention the chauffeur driven luxury cars that ply the streets with businessmen and businesswomen. Saigon is an extreme side of Vietnam, it highlights the progress, the ambitions and the drive for success and the Saigonese are not shy to show off their success once obtained.

The countryside, as you can guess, is on the opposite side of what you experience in Saigon.

Once I was heading in the direction of Cu Chi I decided it was time to “get lost”. I turned off the main road and started riding down narrow countryside roads until I reached a church next to a market.

Church by the market.

Detail of the church. Note the statues.

Riding along quiet countryside roads with blue sky and sunshine is pure bliss. Passing paddy fields and the odd factory. Discovering the contrast within the landscape.

Paddy field and factory building in the distance.

Traffic safety billboard that has not been updated for some time.

Paddy field marker.

Turbo charged fields.

After the paddy fields I tried another side road, or rather, a track as there was no proper road, only dirt. Houses at the countryside are as far as you can get from the city houses and apartment buildings. People still do not lock their doors. They keep dogs that barks when you go by. Hardly any strangers take this road. At the end I reached the paddy fields. The farmers gave me a quick look and carried on as before. Work comes first.

Typical countryside farm house.

End of the road and the start of the paddy fields.

Man and his shovel.

Man and his machine.

It's no Rolls Royce, but for the farmer it is worth its weight in gold.

Cu Chi. Famous for its tunnel network. Tourists are arriving every day by bus. Google “Cu Chi” and you will get the odd tourist posing in the tunnels. I didn’t venture there. I continued on my motorbike until I found a memorial placed next to a flyover and roundabout. The monument had a connecting park lot with vendors resting in the shade, playing cards. A few armored vehicles were displayed. A brief walkabout and a couple of lottery tickets later I decided to head back to Saigon. Seeing a peaceful church, paddy fields and war remnants I thought I had seen enough contrast from the countryside, but, just as you think you have seen it all, Vietnam surprises you again.

War memorial in Cu Chi.

Workers taking advantage of the rotor blade shade.

Tank and pagoda.

Taking a direct hit.


I had to turn back. It was almost too good to be true. Statue of Liberty. In Vietnam. In a field full of animals. Not any kind of animals, statues of animals. Filling the field. Liberation in Cu Chi.

The call of the wild.


Crouching tiger.

Wild horses and a grazing cow.

Statue of Liberty.

As I was heading back I spotted another statue. A Buddha. Normality restored.

Buddha by the roadside.

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Yes, the day I pulled it off. Twice.

Tooth. Still life on magenta background.

failing health

chewing dried seaweed

my teeth grate on sand


Matsuo Basho’s Haiku sums up my feeling of July. What was supposed to be a month where the long planned road trip would take place, became a month full of surprises. As any photographer knows, clients can suddenly change their minds and shooting dates are never really set until the day you actually get to shoot. My shooting days got moved around and suddenly the time set aside for the road trip became working days to the disappointment for my friend James, who had travelled from China and set aside ten days in Vietnam in order to secure at least three to four days on the road.

As goddess Tyche would have it, good fortune came through. First one day was made available and plans were made. We could box the motorbike and take the overnight train to Nha Trang and ride back to Saigon. At least it would be better than nothing and a new route for us. Then more good tidings came our way. Two days. Train idea cancelled. We will ride to Nha Trang the following day and then back.

However, the day before departure was also my day at the dentist. Twenty years ago, back in Norway, I had a bicycle accident. I broke three teeth and got them replaced with crowns. What my dentist did not tell me then, maybe he did not see what my dentist now had seen, that my teeth actually had been damaged at root level by the accident. Similar to building a mansion without proper foundation. Doesn’t matter how good it looks, it will still break sooner or later. Later it was for me, twenty years later and I had to pay the price. The foundation was infected. Of the group of three, two had to leave.

So there I was. At the dentist office. Afternoon. Two teeth to extract and a road trip to undertake the following morning at 5am. The dentist came recommended by a Norwegian friend of mine. He had done a similar procedure and was very pleased with the result. They have a wonderful slogan. On the wall it says: “Nha Khoa Khong Dau” that can loosely be translated into “Dentist office, No pain.”

I have to hand it to them, it was the least painful dentist experience I have had in my entire life. The dentist that did the surgery was hired for the occasion. His day time job is at one of the government run hospitals, dental department and had a lifetime of experience. To him it was routine, he does it everyday, not like the practices back home that has a fraction of the number of patients with similar needs and hence less experience.

I felt at ease. It was all done quickly and I was handed a bag with painkillers and antibiotics. A removable, partial denture was provided so I could at least look normal. Eyebrows were raised when I asked to keep the teeth. Why on earth would I want to, they must have asked themselves. Photographers are seeing the world through a different lens with a different view is all I can say, or rather, I should have told them, as I kept the thought to myself as I left for home and to start packing for the road trip.

“If you have any troubles, please come back immediately”, I was told just before leaving. Great, I thought. This is going to be one very interesting road trip indeed.

Tales from the road are up next. Until then, an exploration of teeth. (Can’t really get myself to say enjoy the view.)

Tooth. Still life on black.

Tooth. Still life on metallic gold.

Tooth. Still life on black velvet.

Tooth. Still life on metallic gold.

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Photography, Recommended, SaigonCreative

SGN Style, a new project sees the light, yay!

A new blog project to promote up and coming creatives in Saigon. The second project to see the light in 2011. The first one is Saigon Creative, the monthly inspirational breakfast talk. Due to internal restructuring, aSaigonCreativeMorning became Saigon Creative and has now a new website address: http://saigoncreative.blogspot.com/

If you signed up on the old site, please follow the link to the new and sign up again for the latest updates regarding the events. Yes, it is a bit inconvenient, however, we don’t have a way to port the existing subscribers to the new site, so please bear with us.

The second project is SGN Style, a blog featuring up and coming fashion designers styling themselves. We want newcomers to have an outlet to present themselves and gain attention from the press. Simple as that. Visit the website for more information and sign up for future blog posts: http://fashionista-saigon.blogspot.com/

Please meet Justin, Celina and Frankytars!




If you are a fashion designer/stylist/photographer, please get in touch if you want to be part of the project. Pro bono. Everybody involved donates their own time and services.

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Celebrating Norway’s national day, 17 Mai, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

17 mai celebration in Saigon.

Every year the Norwegian community get together and celebrate 17 Mai. The meet up place is the Norwegian consul’s house, and everybody participate to bring Norwegian food for the event, either by import, returning from a recent visit to Norway or receiving visitors or to source the ingredients locally and make it yourself. True community spirit.

The official speech by the consul.

Watching the speakers.

The celebration starts in the afternoon, a few speeches are held, the national anthem sung and then the parade around the neighborhood. Norwegian marching tunes from an iphone streamed by cables to an old school ghetto blaster sets the tune.

The 17 of Mai parade.

Once the parade is done, a group photo session is done before the buffet is served. Games for both children and adults take place in the evening, and then the day is over. Until next year.

Group image.

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Let’s talk about fashion – Saigon Creative May event

Gen starting the presentation.

That’s what we did. We got the inside scoop. A journey of tales. Starting in Milan, where we learned that fresh graduates are being picked up by the fashion houses on next to nothing wages. €200-400 a month and a one year contract. Renegotiable upon end of year. Except that the contract will not be renewed and another fresh student will take that spot as well as having to find a part time job to sustain a life in the city. By life, it means food and shelter for most of your time will be spent working.

"What is fashion?"

All the glamourous images and smokescreens came tumbling down. Being a fashion designer is not glamourous at all. Hard work and true love and almost an obsession for fashion will take you further down fashion street, anyone else will get lost and have to find another path to walk on.

Very brutal. Very competitive. A business. A money making business. Money. It’s all about the money.

Graduates are leaving with ideas of how they want to change the world with their designs. We all have been there, young and naive and then we met the established system. Some can make it work by being a rebel, by being different, but they don’t sell well. Success is measured in sales.

Creativity within defined key elements based on the heritage of the brand. All brands change slowly and use their old designs for reference and modify them, but hardly will they do an all over re-design. Too much at stake. Nobody wants to lose sales and earnings and for prices, prices are set based on the perception of the brand value. For example, a €900 garment at wholesale price, will most likely retail at €1800, and cost only €30 to produce. You pay for your brand experience.

Gen showing samples of her work.

We learned about the trade shows, their mood booths and future trends. Everything you see is two years ahead.

We learned about a job title has many positions baked into to it. People are expected to help and get the job done. Such as when you are prototyping and your fashion show is only a few weeks ahead and your boss decides to scrap everything for a new vision and your staffs are hiding because of the scream they heard when the news broke.

2-3 hours sleep on average per night in the run up to fashion week. Having a show and the garments are still not ready. Getting the receptionist and the cleaners to help getting button holes done on time. Sewing decor elements directly onto the model the minute before stepping out on the catwalk and having to tear it all after the show.

Photographers photographing every piece of the collection on the day of the show, delivering images and the printers are working overnight to produce the look book that is delivered to all the buyers on the morning after the show.

While you are selling your current collection and dealing with buyers, you are researching and producing your next collection, the cycle never stops and Gen is traveling onwards, still in love with fashion, just like her heros, such as Jean Paul Gaultier: “I live fashion. I breathe fashion. I am fashion. Fashion is my passion.”

Thank you Gen for your inspirational speech!

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