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From Happy New Year to Chuc Mung Nam Moi

O&M_Happy_New_Year_2015_WEB

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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The art of walking in high heels and the images to prove it

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It all started with an email. That’s why I was standing outside Hotel Continental, opposite the Opera House and waiting. A few minutes earlier I had parked my bike at the Park Hyatt. I was early. Unlike Vietnamese weddings, where it’s normal to arrive at least one hour after the official starting time, assignments tend to start on time. On time we started.

Kate had given a clear and simple brief, great shots around town. Simple. On foot we set off. I had my comfortable, flat Helly Hansen shoes and Kate marched on wearing high heels. For those who know the pavements in Ho Chi Minh City, you can all agree that the pavements are not meant to be used for walking.

It is cumbersome enough to walk in comfortable shoes and high heels are rated mission impossible once you add a bit of distance. Kate was impressive. We did a fair amount of walking and she did so in great style as you can see from the images below.

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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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“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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The Year of the Snake & The Flower market

The Year of the Snake it is indeed.

The Year of the Snake it is indeed.

It is the time of year Nguyen Hue street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City closes down and transforms into a flower decoration display. Time your arrival or get caught in the Tet pack. This year the guards allowed you to only walk in one direction to ensure a constant flow and not the typical everybody jostling for themselves as you observe rush hour time at various intersections and roundabouts.

For the pedestrians walking, the pace was quicker than the nearby traffic on Ton Duc Thang street as the before mentioned display of traffic violations increased with the amount of traffic. Going against the one way street in packs, the motorbikes managed to almost grind the traffic to a complete stop. Taking the correct route would be a bit longer in distance, however, the time would be the same, if not faster.

Strolling along in the city and enjoying the outdoor cafe spaces was a pure bliss. Cafe Kita expanded and had a brisk business as well as the impromptu refreshment sellers. The city felt different just by being able to walk without worrying of motorbikes whizzing by trying to snatch your camera or hand bag. More walkable streets would be welcomed indeed. Let’s see what the year can bring – Happy Lunar New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

The flowers.

The flowers.

The flower girls.

The flower girls.

The flower basket.

The flower basket.

The flower boat.

The flower boat.

 

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Review

TEDxLive 2012 “Radical Openness” – TED x Mekong

Name tag for TEDx Mekong’s event.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be one of the participants of the TEDxLive 2012 “Radical Openness” event that took place in cities worldwide, simultaneously streaming a live stream as part of the highlight of sharing ideas and connecting people around the world. 56 countries were connected, with over 140 cities participating.

“Radical Openness”. Radical is a scary word, a panelist said. Another quipped in that it is appropriate to our current time, where everything moves faster than anything possible 10-15 years ago. Internet changed our pace. Change has to start and come from inside you, the third panelist added to the conversation.

Being open, having an open mind. Do you have an open mind? Not as often as I would like to believe I have. An answer most of us can relate to. Having a closed mind must be easy. You simply block everything out and act with certainties. An open mind has to reflect and analyze. Having an open enough mind to accept that there is a possibility that you are wrong. Fail harder. Fail 7 times and stand straight on 8. Have your beliefs shaken to the core. Embrace change. Open up and change your way of thinking.

How do you deal with a beggar? Being acknowledged is what we all desire. Ignore a person and you will hurt them more than you could imagine.

These are all extract from the conversation that took place. A sample only. From 6.30pm to 9pm Saigon felt different. The live stream went well. No technical issues.

12 years ago when internet access was slow, this would not be possible. Saigon is moving ahead with radical speed. Connected. Ready to learn.

Hopefully open enough to change the perception of Copy & Paste as the panelist member highlighted. He had seen too many students as well as businesses, copying a successful concept abroad and pasting it into Vietnam, without considering if it would fit or not. Not everything that works abroad will work here. The business settings, perception and cultural values are different. Too many variables are different. Embrace ideas and creativity.

Next TEDx Mekong will take place in August.

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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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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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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.

Showstopper.

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Prayers.

Detail of ornaments.

Incense detail.

Prayer time.

Detail of joss sticks/incense.

Burning incense.

Overview.

Light my fire.

Passing the joss stick.

Super hero me.

Detail.

Doorway.

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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.

Logo.

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.

Overview.

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.

Staircase.

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.

Classroom.

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.

"Willkommen"

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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.

Entangled.

Captured.

Key store.

Banh Bao store.

Poster.

Park.

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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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.

Detail.

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.

Stampede.

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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