personal project


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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From Happy New Year to Chuc Mung Nam Moi


New Year’s Eve passed and Tet is coming. The second New Year celebration in 2015. 2014 saw a lot of changes. Vietnam is in constant change, that’s for sure. 2014 was moving time. The studio is still up and running in District 2, however, I am enjoying a new home in District 3 with an amazing view as you can see here:





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Family, Photography

A visit to the park

Sunday morning. The mere words install expectations. A day off. All your worries evaporating as water droplets soaked up by the rising sun. Sundays are to be enjoyed. To recoup. To get out, and out we did go, to the park that is.

The park is already packed before even setting a foot inside. The motorbike attendant closed the entrance two bikes behind us. “It’s full. You have to park elsewhere.” Bikes are being turned around, except for one. He’s not having it. Walking longer to the park is not acceptable. His pleas bear fruit once the others have left, he gets the last spot.

Impromptu chairs and tables emerge on the foot path as people want their morning coffees. Business is brisk. The violinists are practicing down to the left by the pond. The pond has all the photographers circling along, with all their gear out, using their longest tele lens to isolate the lotus flowers. Elsewhere, you see all the boyscout uniforms and the waiting parents. Across the road you find the fitness buffs, doing pull ups bare chested. Male only, so traffic passes by smoothly. Nothing to see.

It’s time to take out the camera. Only one lens, a macro, and I delve into yet another world.


Prints are now available for sale, either as our handmade lacquer prints or canvas prints. Inquiries can be made at our other site, OanhMadsVn.com

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Third time lucky – or are we?

If you have good health and food on your table every day, then indeed, count yourself lucky. However, some of the patients at the Children’s Hospital 2, Nguyen Du street, are overdue to receive a bit of luck in their lives. It is Friday afternoon, ten to four, and we have arrived. Early and soaked as we braved the rain in order to be on time for the scheduled 4 pm meet up. It’s my third weekly visit in a row and we realise we are the first to arrive. The members of the group are wiser, they wait for the rain to clear and then they set out for their weekly mission. The end goal is important, getting wet is not. Off we go. The route is familiar, the wards too, only the people have changed. All new faces, or so it seems. They still know that we are here and people are approaching to secure a meal ticket. The group is bringing hope and the ones who receive their help are the lucky ones. Sadly, we all wish more people to be lucky too, but to achieve that, more help and donors are needed. (All images by iPhone.) smm_charity_third_visit_01 smm_charity_third_visit_02 smm_charity_third_visit_03 smm_charity_third_visit_04 smm_charity_third_visit_05 smm_charity_third_visit_06 smm_charity_third_visit_07

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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.


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Observing kindness and documenting with an iPhone

It’s Friday 4pm in Ho Chi Minh City. We are at the gates of the hospital again. This time we arrive early and it’s still daylight and the group has just assembled outside the cafeteria that is located inside the compound. Red plastic chairs are shuffled around and hands are shaken. More people are present and we get introduced to them all. Off we go. Extra diapers are handed out to parents in need along with the weekly food tickets. Donations are also given to parents with children that has undergone surgery. The walk through the emergency area is emotional, especially if you are a parent yourself. You really don’t want to be walking in their shoes.

Despite the circumstances, smiles are still seen. It was really remarkable to see the young boy, sitting on his mothers lap, connected to a machine with a plastic tube coming out from his throat and he was still able to smile after we arrived.

The images below sums the experience up better than words. If you would like to help or get in touch with the group, please come along on a Friday afternoon at 4pm or visit their website (in Vietnamese) here http://traitimnhanai.com.vn/home.php

Iphonography. SMM_Charity_visit_02 SMM_Charity_visit_03 SMM_Charity_visit_04 SMM_Charity_visit_05 SMM_Charity_visit_06 SMM_Charity_visit_07 SMM_Charity_visit_08 SMM_Charity_visit_09 SMM_Charity_visit_10 SMM_Charity_visit_11 SMM_Charity_visit_12

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What a difference a slip of paper can make – A visit at the hospital ward, Nguyen Du Street, District 1

Receivers of food coupons

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

A chain of events. A one year anniversary notification found its way to my inbox. An Expat blog meet-up, always at a new location, and almost always having new people participating. Thus, I met Dennis and his wife, Quynh, for the first time. A random encounter with a touching outcome. They do charity. Several stories later and we are at the hospital ward. They support a local group that helps the poorest amongst the patients.

Every week they print around 300 food tickets, all valid for one week only, to the meals at the canteen. The receivers are guaranteed to have adequate food for a week. It makes a difference when what you have is nothing as you spent everything you had on medicine. The smiles of joy and relief are seen as the group goes through the wards handing out their tickets as well as following up from last week. The group relies on donations to pay for the meals they sponsor every week.

They also run a website (in Vietnamese) that shows what they are doing and how they have spent the money donated.

Here are a few iPhone images from the Friday handout. It takes place every Friday afternoon at the hospital at Nguyen Du street, District 1.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

Receivers of food coupons. Iphonography.

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Making a difference – If only for a day

At the pagoda. iPhone photography processed with camera+

At the pagoda. iPhone photography processed with camera+

Walking through narrow alleyways where even the motorbikes would have their mirrors bent inwards by the walls. Retracing the steps afterwards, we would appreciated road markers left behind on the walls as we are getting lost. A maze within a small section of the town. We are in Phu Nhuan district, 5 minutes away from a large arterial road, in what seems a world apart. Do good. That’s the reason why we are here. To remind ourselves that in fact we have privileged lives that we often take for granted as there are many people in more dire situations than ourselves. To do what we often think and wish we should do. A first step. To give. Give to people less fortunate without expecting anything in return, except for the feeling of making someone happy. The smiles received are reward enough.

First stop is the 1st floor of a hairdresser. I have passed it many times. Even made a note to return with a camera and take a photograph of the mannequin heads that sometimes are on display. Impaled heads on a metal fence. All with various hair colours and lengths, used for practice by the staff. Today we enter the salon and venture upstairs. We meet the husband first, then his wife, lying on a mattress on the floor. In agony. She has incurable cancer. Dying from the inside, a bit more every day. Eventually she will leave behind her husband and two children. It is brutal. Time is limited and our small contribution will only help them subdue the pain for a short time, but can do nothing to stop the process. Even with means to help it will not be enough. It start to sink in how precious life is and how valuable every moment we have with loved ones really is.

Love and care is what we all crave and need. The infant inside the room, only a short walk away from the hairdresser, is being looked after by his mother. She happens to be an unmarried, single mother. The room is their home. It’s dark with hardly any light seeping in. Electricity cost money and thus saved by not being used. She needs all the help and support she can get.

Next stop is further inside. Between newly constructed houses and villas we arrive at metal gate. Through a small courtyard that doubles as motorbike parking space, we entered a small house, greeted by an elderly woman. The elderly woman has aged through hardship and not by time as she looks much older than her real age. She is looking after her son. He is in his twenties and stays at home with her. He’s standing by the window in a small room, shifting his weight back and forth. Only then do I notice the ankle chain. He is chained to the wall. To keep him safe. The woman says he is mad and dangerous to his surroundings. She has to keep him chained up. The motorbike parking is her only livelihood but her front yard cannot hold that many motorbikes.

Our journey continues, next stop, the local hospital. After spending time trying to figure out our given directions, we had to resort to a phone call as even the staff could not tell us the correct room. Once we received the additional information did we find our next person in need of some help. The old woman has respiratory troubles and is undertaking her treatment as we arrive. Through her face mask  I notice how her eyes light up when hearing of our purpose for the visit. It means a lot to her. To us, in monetary terms, it is not much. Forgoing a meal out, and donate instead the value, and you have touched a heart immensely. It is a small token that we all can do. To share with a stranger in need.

We spend more time walking. This time we walk passed the house as it is too tiny to notice, sandwiched between two villas. It’s made of wood. Small, but still someone’s house and home. An elderly woman, living by herself, working hard to make a living. She normally sells her homemade goods in the evenings, something we did not know and we feel ashamed to have taken up her valuable sales time as we wanted to help and not be a burden to her.

Our last stop this evening is the local pagoda. It is with their help we have located the people in need. The day has been filled with mixed emotions of all the experiences we have had, however, knowing that we have done something that made a difference, no matter how small, it still is a difference and that feels good. It is good to get out of our normal comfort zone and our own daily routines and be useful, if only for a day.

I do know that I want to undertake this again and I also hope that more people will do the same, if only for a day a year.

If you cannot make a personal visit, please consider to fund a Kiva loan. This year, I made a resolution to issue a new loan of US$25 every month on Kiva and you can do so too here: http://www.kiva.org/invitedby/mads6766

For each person that follows that link and donate, Kiva will issue a bonus that can be used to issue even more loans. You can read about it here: http://www.kiva.org/bonus/learnmore

Even if everyone else is not doing good, I alone will.
Even if everyone else is doing wrong, I alone will not.

– Buddha

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“Be my Valentine” – 14th February 2013

"Be my Valentine"

“Be my Valentine”

 Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you who will be out celebrating today!

For those who wants to brush up on their history knowledge, here’s the Wikipedia definition.

"Be my Valentine"

“Be my Valentine”

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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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“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” – Dianne Ackerman

“The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play,
his labor and his leisure,
his mind and his body, his education and his recreation,
his love and his religion.
He hardly knows which is which;
he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does,

leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing.
To him he is always doing both.”


Walking through the halls of Saint Martins for the first time, we completed the tour by heading down to the darkroom areas in the basement. The standard was far from the neatly kept and clean darkroom area I had seen at the Surrey Institute in Farnham. It went against all my previous darkroom training of keeping order. But that didn’t matter as soon as I saw a student walking past with the negative carrier tray for the darkroom enlarger filled with all kinds of layers and filters, making a triple big mac looking small in comparison. Coming from a tradition darkroom background with one negative inserted and printed at the time, being here felt right. A playground where anything goes. Try and fail. Try and fail harder. Faster. Smarter. Learn.

Heading back to the archive, ending up selecting one of my previous photo walks with Ian, images that already resulted in a previous blog post, I started re-working. Simple layering in photoshop. First step of exploration. More steps to come. Enjoy!

No 1

No 2

GIF animation.

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Walkabout in Saigon – The second tour with Ian

Ian, the photo tour guide.

Ian is a brilliant guide. A photo walk together with him is always inspiring and a joy. This time we met up in District 5 and walked around several pagodas. Ended up having a small, refreshing break, both to quench our thirst as well as clear our eyes from all the incense smoke, before continuing our journey. The different styles and atmospheres were inspiring, however, this time I ended up focusing on details. Enjoy the show!

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Site inspection and the accidental tourist in Tra Vinh City

Driving around Tra Vinh City centre.

It started with a phone call. Followed up with a meeting and some coffee. An invite was given and I gladly accepted. Soon I found myself on the way to Tra Vinh, to visit the production facilities of my new client. An impressive site. An equally impressive production line and working environment. I stayed for the night at their guest room that puts plenty of hotel rooms to shame. Woke up to a beautiful sunrise and continued the tour from the day before.

All went well and it was time to head back to Saigon. The car arrived and the driver asked if I would like a small tour around town and off we went. Remarkable contrast. Leaving a site that works with nano technology to enter ancient temple grounds and statues. All within an hour. Enjoy!

Walking through small woods before reaching the temple area.

Smaller temple area.

Statues at your service.



The statue, the tree and the sky.

Spotted inside a truck on the ferry when making the crossing back to Saigon.

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Vietnam’s Liberation Day and the beach holiday to Mui Ne

Beach time

End of April and beginning of May have two public holidays here in Vietnam. 30th April is the liberation day, or Victory Day as it is also referred to, and 1st of May is the International Labour Day. This year, those days fell on a Monday and Tuesday respectively. A very long weekend indeed, and Tet holiday-like queues were expected. The People’s Army Newspaper wrote that public transportation had run out of tickets prior the holiday and that the train system alone, had to accommodate twice the amount of travelers for the holiday. Last year’s holiday had 211 reported traffic accidents with 172 fatalities over a 4 day period. The traffic police dealt with 44,200 traffic violations and the State collected US$ 548,000 in fines only for those four days.

With that as backdrop we set out on the Saturday 28th, heading for Mui Ne and the beach, without any reservations. The day before I had celebrated my double 20 day with family and was still in denial that I have entered a new era. Starting my age with the cipher 3 was already tough enough and now the cipher 4. Troi oi! or Oh My God, as they say in Vietnamese.

Anyhow, we made it safely to the beach, leaving Saigon after lunch time and arriving in the late evening. Found a hotel within reasonable time and woke up to a wonderful day, breakfast at 6am. Then the beach before hitting the pool before checking out at 12. Luggage in the car and off for lunch. Then the hunt started. This time it took much longer. No vacancy was the only answer until we ventured further down the coast.

First opening did not serve breakfast, did not have a pool and the beach was hidden by high tide. Second place did have beach access but the privately owned place with the owner sitting bare chested with his drinking buddies and playing cards did not fit in with a family with small kids. And on we went. Three times lucky as they say. Third stop had breakfast, had a pool and proper beach access. We checked in and left for dinner. Next day was a repeat of the first day. Breakfast, beach and then pool. Pure bliss. Checked out at noon and headed for lunch. Afterwards, a sightseeing drive along the coast before heading back to Saigon.

Here are a few shots I managed to squeeze in during the long weekend. Enjoy!

Beach view

Building sand castles

Enjoying the afternoon sunset

Walking the dog

Road stop

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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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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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Monkey madness

Monkey I

On location deep inside the Mekong, we set up and photographed a storage room in a small village. It was the main distribution centre in the area. In between shots as my assistants moved lights, I saw something next door. At first, I noticed the shafts of light coming in to what I believed was an empty storage room, however a small movement caught my attention.

A pet monkey was chained inside. I snapped a few shots before I got called at from outside and had to continue the assignment. A brief moment with a lasting impact. Assignment done, files delivered and I take a second look at the few frames I snapped. I edit them and start looking up animal websites and one article hits me, “The Perils of Keeping Monkeys as Pets”, where the author states that there is a 99.9 percent of creating a mentally disturbed animal if you try to keep them as pets.

“Primates are wild animals,” said Truitt of the Primate Rescue Center. “No amount of surgical mutilation, training, or beating will ever change that.”

Monkey II

Monkey III

Monkey IV


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New Year’s Eve in Bergen with Xmas lights, bokeh and fireworks

Study of bokeh I.

End of 2011 brought no snow and no white Xmas to Bergen, Norway. Instead we faced strong wind, one of the worst storms ravaging the coastline and rain as the year drew to an end. Not really an incentive to leave the cozy home for shots that would end up as mediocre. So a study of bokeh in fireworks became the solution. Enjoy the countdown!

Study of bokeh II.

Study of bokeh III.

Study of bokeh IV.

Study of bokeh V.

Study of bokeh VI.

Study of bokeh VII.

Study of bokeh VIII.

Study of bokeh IX.


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