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walkabout

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.

In_the_Park_Copyright_MadsMonsen

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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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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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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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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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.

Symmetry.

Statue.

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

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

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

Hillside, Florence, Italy. Polaroid Transfer.

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

Walking, New York.

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

Walking, New York.

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

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

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

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

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

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The colorful ones – Saigon brightens up

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Talking about Vietnamese fashion, the Ao Dai comes to mind, however, the real deal is something practical and often quite outstanding, in terms of colour that is. How come? Are bright colours the equivalent to the reflective safety vests?

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Walking the streets of Saigon you will not easily become the next Sartorialist as the most fashionable dressed people simply do not walk the streets, especially not under the sun. Tourists are seen walking, office workers during lunch time can sometimes be spotted and street vendors plying the streets. The rest, they travel around by motorbikes or cars, stopping outside their destinations, spending as little time walking the streets as they have to.

People literally park their motorbikes at shop entrances. Valet parking service is common at more fashionable shopping establishments. Walking is simply done in the morning, 5.30am at the park, if you are into public exercising.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Colourful Saigon, street style.

Public eye and public space. People are not so shy in public, from squeezing zits or picking noses to men unzipping behind electrical poles, marking it doggy style, so when wearing your pajamas, nobody raises their eyebrows as it is old school style.

Pajamas old school style.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same” Coco Chanel.

It sums up the final image, Mr Style, walking the street.

"Fashion fades, only style remains the same."

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The streets of Saigon

Walkabouts. I miss living in London as Saigon does not appreciate pedestrians in the same manner. I walked a lot more before. These days, a regular gym routine is needed to stay in shape.

However, there are few moments of bliss to be enjoyed on the streets of Saigon and Tet is one of them. The streets are deserted and at noontime there are even less movement as people enjoy their lunch and being Tet, their games.

Despite the reduced number of motorbikes, people still manage to have bike accidents.The statistics are shocking.

Motorbike accident

Abandoned motorbike on the road

Ask any ex-pat living here for more than a few years, and they all have their traffic tales from hell to tell. I once was told about a friend of a friend that went down only to be run over by the bike that came behind. He was wearing a helmet and survived as the wheel went over his head.

At least he was wearing a helmet and had it secured. There is a reason why the traffic police asked for better clarification in the laws regarding wearing a helmet and to specifically add the part of securing the strap. To see adults riding their bikes at full speed, suddenly slamming their brakes after going over a small bump as their helmet is now rolling on the street behind them, turning their bikes and going the wrong way only to place the helmet back on again without securing it.

What kind of logic is this? Probably the same that is applied at night when motorbikes are coming at full speed down unlit alleyways without their headlights on. I am being told they are saving the light bulb as their main reason. I changed my lightbulb once or twice in 7 years on my bike and that cost me less than 10.000 Vietnamese Dong each time (1 US$=18.500 VND). A life can be really cheap these days.

No entry road sign

No entry road sign in front of a wooden wall.

Back to the walkabout. Light at noontime is often avoided by photographers as it is too harsh, but sometimes it can create interesting opportunities. It is refreshing to walk around, only camera and lens, no other light modifiers and work with what you got. It is all out there, the only difference is how you see it. Different photographer, different vision. That’s what I love about photography, part technique and craft, part the way you see, the art of composition. As they say, know the rules and when to break them.

The text and numbers on the image below belongs to various concrete suppliers. This is how they advertise themselves around the city. Almost any wall will have one or more of these tags. They must employ a team of taggers as every new rise will have them plastered on within a week.

Wall with lettering

Wall tagged by local concrete providers.

Another common sign that you can easily spot around is the mobile petrol station, see image below.

Mobile petrol station

A mobile petrol station.

The second version have a bit of Josef Muller-Brockmann influence.

Mobile petrol station alternate version

Mobile petrol station alternate version.

Another street sign is this repair shop. The stack of tires signals the presence of a repair station/garage. Functional design.

Motorbike repair station

Stacked tires indicate a motorbike repair shop.

A walk like this was much needed break from the routine. I have a charity project running with the same principle, only camera and lens, work with what you got. Maybe I bring a reflector. It is good to go back to basic, you often end up being more creative when on a shoe string budget so to speak.

I think of it as duality and balance. With my work I do commercial (advertising) and editorial work. I go from corporate boardrooms to restaurants photographing food. I will be in studio doing products and still life to be on location photographing models. I am blessed to be able to have variety in my assignments and that variety I truly enjoy.

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