personal project


Chasing the morning light along Saigon river

This is what you get by getting up early. Beautiful light. The road to yourself. Yes, it is a Sunday morning. Hardly any traffic. Fast forward 24 hours and you have the traffic jams. Sunday is a day of rest in most countries. Rest can be many things. It can be a stay in bed longer day or a day by the poolside or home doing nothing day. To me, nothing is more refreshing than to jump on the bike, cameras loaded and chase the good light. A perfect start of a very relaxing Sunday, or shall we say, Fun day.

The city looks peaceful from Thu Thiem bridge. First stop.

The red gate in District 2 and a few minutes patience.

Riverside view of Saigon skyline.

Red gate close up and the new Bitexco Financial Tower.

Closer view of the Bitexco Financial Tower.

From the peaceful start and stroll through the green scenery along the waterways, you suddenly notice that the country never stand still. Builders are at work. Like yin and yang, beauty and the beast, two takes on the scenery. Enjoy the industrial age on a Sunday morning!

Detail from work site.

Smoke fills the air.

Cranes at the docks.

Cleared land for development with the cranes in the background.

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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, Typography

Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides. – Lao Tzu

Inspirational quotes series: #005

Another addition to the inspirational poster collection of mine. This time with photography and type, not type alone. Self initiated projects are valuable to keep skill sets alive and force yourself to produce. It is easy to get caught up in all the other aspects of running a photography business that you stop shooting for yourself. I have been there and done that. Hence the projects. It is my second time at running a full-time photography business. First time straight after ending my apprenticeship. 3 years of studying on the job. I had already shot quite a few jobs for the studio and thought I had the drive and skills to set up.

First knock, agencies are vary of any newcomers as they want to know that you can pull it off. They prefer working with established ones as they would hate explaining why a re-shoot is needed.

Second knock, credentials are important even though nobody will ask for your diploma. I was competing as an advertising photographer against others that spent their time studying abroad before setting up back home. Even the ones that had gone through apprenticeships before me.

Needless to say, most of my energy went to seek new work, creating opportunities and working mainly editorial and doing regular go-see’s with new work to the agencies. A few years on my own I packed up my bags, left for England, as I had been accepted first at Surrey and then due to personal reasons changed to KIAD. The course at KIAD was brand new, specialised in advertising photography. The tutors told me that I was a bit unlucky as I should have been placed straight into the second year and not the first, as it was simply too basic.

However, I met some wonderful people that I enjoyed spending time with and solve photography projects. Merlin Hendy, Richard Sainsbury, Daniele Melgiovanni and Peder Songedal. Merlin is a brilliant dance photographer, Richard got represented by Photonica while in school, Daniele is part of one of London’s biggest studios and Peder has become a Canon Master in Norway.

KIAD only taught me two things that I didn’t already know. Split tone printing and the graphic design classes. I loved the latter ones. Something new and creative. I liked it. I wanted to learn more than only the two hours a week we had. Another fellow Norwegian from my home town had studied graphic design in London and had highly recommended his school.

As I normally do when I am about to set out for something new, I research. I asked the graphic design tutor at KIAD what schools she would recommend. I was given a brief list. Then I asked about the school that my friend recommended. “You will never get into that. That’s the best one.”

Determination. You will need it in any business you want to succeed. If you don’t want it, somebody else will. I managed to schedule an interview with the design school. Brought my photography portfolio and my humble attempt at graphic design. I met Andrew. I showed him my work. The graphic work was rubbish, almost thrown away immediately. Photography work hold interest. Then my story. Why I wanted this. Why I was here. Why he should give me a chance. I walked away with the brightest smile ever. I was accepted at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design.

I had to change school midterm. I had to get refund from the other school. I was the first Norwegian student to ever have done a transfer midterm. All the paperwork and money lost in fees as I did not get a full refund. It all didn’t matter. I was where I wanted to be. I was an oddball. That’s why I got accepted. I found out from my tutors later that that was how I were described to them. The oddball from Norway.

I had two options. I could breeze through the design course by solving briefs the photography way or I could pick the hardest challenge and get to understand type and typography. I got my hands dirty in the basement of Southampton Row setting type by hand. Letterpress printing. Same way you will never understand dodging and burning in Photoshop if you haven’t tried it for yourself in the darkroom. Not that I will make you necessarily better, but you will have a better understanding about the craft. I got to understand the logic behind the tools in QuarkXpress. Before everybody changed to InDesign.

Dual background. Design and photography. Need to fuel both passions. Inspirational quotes project helps. Enjoy the series as it develops.

Life’s too short to not be doing what you love doing.

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Finding inspiration and the desire to create.

Inspirational poster series #001

Twitter and its “Tweets” can be addictive once you start following other interesting contributors. Inspirational quotes are just that, inspirational, and they are one of the bits I fished out of my Twitter stream.

I started enjoying reading positive statements infrequently. Then I started wanting to keep some of them for reference and I emailed the tweets to myself. Archived into my Personal folder, together with lots of other emails. Hidden, neatly out of sight.

Next step was do do a screen shot of the tweets and place the screenshots in an inspirational folder. More organized and still hidden.

Better, but not good.

I wanted to do something more out of them and after some pondering my calendar finally had an opening. I reserved it for myself. My time. Headphones on, Smashing Pumpkins blazing my ears and no interruptions allowed while I am opening Illustrator and start creating a series of posters.

Four posters created, more to come. They are all available, just click the image.

Now, the next step will be to get them printed and onto the walls.

Inspirational poster series #002

Inspirational poster series #003

Inspirational poster series #004

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10th October 2010 at 10 am.

10th of October 2010 fell on a Sunday. Sunday’s are normally “lazy Sundays” where I am hitting the playgrounds with Tian or, as lately, we go and see the water puppet show and then stroll around Saigon Zoo. Finished serving late breakfast or early brunch, I picked up the camera and looked for inspiration as the time drew closer to 10 am.

This is it:

Tian's reindeer, natural light at ISO 1600.

10/10/10 or 101010 in binary code equals 42.

Cube 1:

  • According to Douglas Adam fans, the number 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything.
  • 42. The absolute truth about life. 2 Die. A die got 6 sides and all sides add up to 21. 21 times 2 equals 42 hence 2 Die.
  • The eight digits of pi beginning from 242,422 places after the decimal point are 42424242.

Cube 2:

  • The glyph, or character, corresponding to the number 42 in the ASCII character set, is *, the asterisk, commonly known as the wildcard character. For example, when used in a Unix command such as “rm -fr /*”, * means “everything”.
  • 42 is the number with which God creates the Universe in Kabalistic tradition.
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has 42 illustrations.

Cube 3:

  • In A Clockwork Orange Alex browses through records in a record store and we see a record of the, at this time fictional, band Level 42.
  • Tower 42 is a skyscraper in the City of London, formerly known as the NatWest Tower.
  • The designation within ISO/IEC JTC1/SC7 of its working group on Architecture was chosen to be “WG 42” because architecture is the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything”, skipping over designations 26 through 41.

What’s up with the “Cube” sub headings?

Given 27 same-size cubes whose nominal values progress from 1 to 27, a 3×3×3 magic cube can be constructed such that every row, column, and corridor, and every diagonal passing through the center, comprises 3 cubes whose sum of values is 42.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42_(number)

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The “100 Faces” photography project and the Vietnamese contribution

“The project is a book in which sale proceeds will be donated to The Global Hunger Project.
We are collecting an array of portraits from different photographers around the world.

The Goal of this Project: Gain exposure for photographers and the art of photography,
raise money for global affairs addressing children poverty, expose the world to the different
perspectives of Beauty amongst different cultures.

We are asking each contributing photographer to submit 1-10 portraits of women
between ages 18-32 which are considered to be beautiful in their local culture.

The brief in short. Received by email. Sounded interesting. Profits to be donated to charity. We can support that. The following Facebook status update went out: “Participating in a world wide charity project about women’s beauty. Need to submit images of ten Vietnamese women. Anyone interested? “

Who would heed the call? 6 women did and here’s the result:






An Tran

Then came the follow up email:

“Dear Photographers,

I am very sad to be writing this email today and I have developed relationships with many of you
over the past months. I am writing to you because the 100 Faces photography project has been
indefinitely suspended due to lack of funds. “

Sad news indeed, but that should not stop us from ever trying. We tried and got the results above and we would not have had them if we never got the brief.

Yes, disappointed that the project didn’t proceed further and grateful for the opportunity to create the work above.

It was a fun experience as we had to use natural light and James’ helping hands with the reflector to follow the photography guidelines.

Overall, a good experience.

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Project Charity

The charity project is something that has been on and off. First time we started it, was around 2003. We found 5 different, privately run orphanages and visited them. We interviewed and photographed, went back home and wrote articles about them that were then posted online on a now forgotten portal site. However, the years they were up, they generated interest and gifts for the orphanages.

The stories we were told back then, are stories that we can never forget. It seems that in this world, no matter how hard you think you have had it, there is always someone who has had a harder life.

What can you do when you are few hours old and are being left outside an unknown house…

The people who care for the orphans have put tremendous effort and love into their operations, no matter how poor they are themselves.

You open up your own house, sell all your furniture so you can support more children and give up your own privacy just for the sake of helping others…

You meet these people face to face and leave humbled.

After setting up my photography studio again, the orphanage project kept coming back in my mind. Still the same concept; visit, document and raise awareness. I added some self imposed rules, only to bring a camera and a lens, maybe a reflector, but that’s about it. Back to basic photography.

My plan this time is to visit 8-10 orphanages and create enough visual imagery for a book and an exhibition in order to raise both awareness and funds for them.

The project is trotting slowly along, I have been to 4 already together with a journalist friend of mine who helps with the interviews.

All the places that we have visited are more or less unknown to the general public. There are quite a few organisations, NGO’s that are internationally funded and staffed with both ex-pats and locals, but we are not including them as they already are receiving exposure. Our aim is to help the ones that even with US$ 10 extra, makes a huge difference.

Below are some samples from the recent visits.

Orphanage Project

Orphanage Project

Orphanage Project

Orphanage Project

Orphanage Project

Orphanage Project

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