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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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Design

The former colleague and now inventor

‘I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.’

Ms Ngoc Hanh and I met for the first time at Sun Flower Media company where we both were art directors for different publications. Fast forward and we are both on different paths and still share the same ambition. To see our creations blossom.

Ms Ngoc Hanh founded Mimimi.com.vn and she sells a product to help you clean your helmet without damaging the washing machine.

She wanted to have a quick and effective way to clean helmets and they are now available for sale online.

The English version can be found here: http://mimimi.com.vn/en/

Mimimi_Web

Please take a look if this is of interest. Product pictures were done in our studio and for those of you that follow our blog, please take a look at our new, main portfolio website at www.madsmonsen.com as we finally updated our site. For our lacquerware and custom lacquer orders, please visit oanhmadsvn.com

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Family, Photography

The family visit

01_SMM0315

Photography is rewarding. You get to meet great people, sometimes even travel to exotic locations or take part of an important stage of someone else’s life.It was such as day for Kate and Collin as they wanted images of their first born daughter, Marie.

It also comes with great responsibility. You are in charge of creating visual mementos for the future. Preserving a slice of time for others to enjoy.

02_SMM0423

Photographing Marie at their home made the session easier. She could feel more comfortable in her own environment and we could make use of all her toys as decoration objects. Later on, we moved to the studio after a refreshing nap for more traditional family portraits as seen below.

03_SMM0559

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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.

Promo_small_set

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Photography, Review

Fashion Creation – From idea to final show

The street lights glowed in the dark as the light drizzle added a soft shine to the road leading up to Gala Royal. It was early evening, June 20th 2013, and the TK09 students from Hoa Sen’s first bachelor program of Fashion Design  were about to start their graduation show “Fashion Creation”.

Inside, guests were filling up the seats, photographers assembling their gears and video tripods marked the press pit area. Models walked past, en route to back stage changing area while designers could be spotted across the room due to their serious faces. Tension was in the air. The rest of the crowd was at ease, smiling, reading the program and conducting small talk.

It was as any other fashion show, except to the designers involved, this did not feel like any other show, this was their show and it showed. From the serious faces before start, then the anxious looks when their models braved the catwalk, to the joy and sheer happiness when they walked the catwalk themselves, receiving applause for their efforts. Online, likes were being racked up on the various walls as proud parents and friends had already broadcasted the event to their Facebook streams.

A milestone, one of many more to come, had been achieved this evening and for that I would say it was a successful event. They had shipped their products and delivered. They had gone through with their ideas and visualised them. It takes a lot of hand work and dedication to bring ideas to life, however, no matter the hardship, the smiles of joy that evening made it all worth it. It felt great to witness it from front row.

Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation Hoa Sen Graduation Show – Fashion Creation

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Photography

Meeting Mr Carlos – The portrait session

Mr Carlos

Mr Carlos

Carlos is an inspiration. That had to be said. I am fortunate to be able to come across many people through my work and I have now crossed paths with Carlos. Carlos sent me an email. He needed a photographer. A few exchanges later we have agreed on what we wanted to do and he showed up at the studio. As the session progressed and our conversation continued, a remarkable story came out.

Carlos had made up his mind, set goals and started educating himself on fitness and nutrition. 115kg to less than 75kg. 4 years of dedication. An investment that now he could reap the benefits from. Feeling healthy and looking good. He wanted to document his change, and that we did. Here are a few samples from the session we did. Enjoy!

02_SM26697 03_SM26754 04_SM26733 05_SM26850 06_SM27036_HDR

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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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Photography, Recommended

Meet the Ebretta and the V-Tronic, the electric vintage looking scooters

The Ebretta and the V-Tronic

Saigon Scooter Centre (SSC), have just launched two electric scooters, a Lambretta and a Vespa, perfect for inner-city travel. Speed of up to 60km per hour and a traveling distance of 40 kilometers on a full charge ought to be enough to whizz around town in green style.

Patrick, from SSC, brought the bikes over to the studio for a product shoot session. We have photographed everything from small nuts and bolts to petrol tanks and complete bikes previously. Over 1500 individual parts have been photographed up to now. Patrick also organise the annual Charity Scooter Run that we are proud to be one of the sponsors to.

We spent the afternoon photographing the two bikes, the results you can see here, and by the way, Patrick will have the first bikes available for delivery in August, that’s only a few more months, so if you are interested, head over to his site here.

Which one do I prefer? I must admit I’d go for the Lambretta.

The V-Tronic Vespa.

Old style voltmeter.

Frontview with seat open.

The battery controller.

The batteries, one on each side.

Charge outlet. Industry standard cord. 3 hours for full charge.

The full view.

Ebretta, full view.

Close up.

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Photography

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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Photography

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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Design, Photography

Duyên Dáng Việt Nam – Charming Vietnam, the new magazine

It started with a phone call. Most of the time it just does that. A ring. Some vibrations. Then a “hello”, as a command line interpreter, spelling out “Hello World”

It was an old colleague of mine. In need of some help. Design help. They had a new project, a magazine, and they wanted a different direction and thought of me.

I was humbled and flattered, it would be my third magazine to art direct and my first since I started my own studio. In the three years since I left my art director position to focus on photography, the studio has moved on from providing initially editorial services to a full service production house for advertising campaigns.

Want us to photograph only, yes, we still can do that. Want us to provide talent/wardrobe/props et al, yes, we can also do that. High end retouch services, yes, that too. Need a video, yes, we have a collaboration team to help us out on that, just like we did here for Mindshare Vietnam

Life seems to go in circles. I started out as an art history student, getting lured into the student newspaper as a photographer. Securing an apprenticeship with a commercial photography studio before setting up my own studio collective. Moving to London and studied graphic design at St.Martin’s. Working both as a designer and a photographer before moving to Vietnam. Art directing magazines and running an in-house photo studio for almost six years. Setting up my own studio again and now back into editorial design, expanding again, we just hired an in-house designer and are designing “Charming Vietnam” on a monthly basis.

Like Yin and Yang, my career is interlinked with design and photography. For the first issue I was commissioned to do the fashion article. I became my own art director. One of the things in life that you will only realize the hard way, is that besides from trying to make darkroom prints at night when you are exhausted after a full day work is 99% a waste of time, is that multi tasking is overrated. Focus matters.

So on the day of the fashion shoot we arrived at the showroom of the designer. That was our venue. I had been given “The Quiet American”, 1950’s as reference. That translates into vintage feel.

The showroom on ground floor was long and narrow. Not many angles to work and fortunately not the place where we were going to shoot. We headed up the stairs. More space and more people. On a set it can easily build up to be quite a crowd, however, this was clearly the wrong kind. Construction workers. Cutting metal bars and welding the bits together made any rave party look and sound like a quiet church teatime session.

I had two areas with daylight access and approaching rain clouds on the horizon. About an hour, an hour and a half tops, to cover eight outfits. Initially ten, however, we only had six pages at disposal, so eight leaves enough room. As a layout designer, the more options, the better. As a photographer, limited time plus limited suitable working angles to make a coherent look and feel equals less outfits to shoot.

Sometimes it is good to be your own boss.

We managed to finish off the session as the rain started hitting the building and swallowing the ambient light and it was time to wrap it up as a photographer and start making selections as an art director.

Once I had narrowed down to 2-3 images per outfit, I could start working on the page design. It is a puzzle without a visual reference to follow. The bits are put in place and moved around until they feel right. Sometimes it is easy, other times it takes a lot of time. I finished the first option, not completely happy and having learned my lessons the hard way in the darkroom, I left it at that. At the point of creative fatigue.

Continued the next day. Reworked the flow and order again and again until I this time, felt confident that this was how it was going to be presented. Left it again for the next day. Still the same feeling. Did not change it more.

Here is the session; six pages spread.

Spread 1 of the fashion story

Spread 2 of the fashion story

Spread 3 of the fashion story

 

Here is the poster for the cover, taken from the fashion session.

Charming Vietnam cover poster

Here are sample spreads of the layout.

Inside spread 1

Spread 2

 

The best part, our client is happy and took us out on celebration lunch today, yay!

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Photography, Recommended, SaigonCreative

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

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

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

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

Please meet Justin, Celina and Frankytars!

Justin

Celina

Frankytars

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

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Photography

Advertising billboard in Saigon

Client: San Miguel Pure Foods. Agency: Riverorchid. Photography: Studio MadsMonsen

It’s not the size that counts as Renault Clio’s advertising campaign used to tell us, but when it comes to seeing your work printed out big and put on display on a billboard, then yes, size do matters.

We did this ad for Dua Moc brand just in time for Tet and it is still up on the board in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. It had been a while since I had been in that area, but once spotted, then I returned to document it. One thing is to see the final artwork file, another is to see it on display, big size. Always a great feeling.

Client: San Miguel Pure Foods. Agency: Riverorchid. Photography: Studio MadsMonsen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photography

Tet has passed and a New Year has arrived

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

It is time to officially wish the New Year welcome and lets hope it will be as interesting or even more as the year that passed. We ended it with a highlight, if not, the highlight of the year. A helicopter ride to three oil rigs in a day, yay! All buckled up and riding along the coast of Vung Tau shooting out the open and secured door. A great experience. It is not an understatement to say that I love my job.

Photographer on assignment and loving it, yay! (Image courtesy of Clarence.)

This is my second time in a helicopter, the first time took place in Norway, on top of one of the glaciers. I was an apprentice at that time and we used the helicopter as a prop for a winter fashion shoot. As we wrapped it up, the helicopter pilot said we still had time left so we went for a spin around. Hovering in front of the blue glacier ice was a highlight. Beautiful sight.

This time the helicopter was bigger and the ride longer. We were lucky with the weather, we had been warned that the forecast was not good, the wind particularly strong and that may prevent us from going.

Here’s one of the shots from the ride, enjoy!

Oil rig of Petro Vietnam at the coast of Vung Tau.

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Photography

A New Year needs a New Calendar…

…And what would be more fitting for this blog than to introduce the jewellery calendar we photographed for CAO Fine Jewellery before year’s end. Off to a flying start with the butterfly necklace, my favourite from the session.

The butterfly necklace from CAO Fine Jewellery.

Here’s a view of the calendar and below more samples from the year to come. Enjoy!

CAO Fine Jewellery's calendar 2011.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

CAO Fine Jewellery.

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Review

Blue elephants at Saigon Zoo

The Big Show at Saigon Zoo 2010

Yes, the images are from the morning after, but no alcohol induced elephant visions, only cardboard prints of the mascot for The Big Show.

The Big Show has been around for some time. I remember the first show I went to hosted at Pierre’s former restaurant at Thai Van Lung street. Back in the old days. Work was pinned up on dividers set up in the restaurant and the creative community mingled. It has moved around to various venues. Sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, sometimes both.

The Big Show has gotten bigger over the years. Recently Sun Flower Media, my former employer, have been improving the show in some aspects.

Last year, the show was located at the cinema and sports complex at Nguyen Du, district 1. This year it was at the Saigon Zoo. Fitting place for elephants, even purple ones.

The opening evening draws the crowd and this year was no exception. I had not received any invite for the event, however, security staff handed out extras at the entrance, no worries, free for all. Great. We entered.

Sponsored booths at the entrance.

More corporate sponsors had been brought in, samples handed out freely, including snack to eat and liquid to drink.

Viewing the artworks.

Anyhow, the show must go on. For the first time, the works on display were actually unified in presentation style. All branded and printed out. It looked impressive compared to the previous events.

To view the work you needed to do a bit of walking as they were all displayed on long rows. At the end you had the big screen. Most people did not sit down, they chose to stand at the back. Sometimes it makes sense to hang at the back as you can make small talk without getting your ears blasted by the normally loud volume.

So far so good, or? What struck me was the feeling of fewer participants on display. They had a lot of work up. New work. International work. However, how many of the international campaigns make sense to the local audience if they do not know the culture that the campaign is targeting? I personally loved the ad for nose trimmers as they made used of the cable mayhem that you can see everyday in Vietnam. It is something that relates to here.

What I am trying to say is that sometimes it is not about how much we improve the current product if the product has lost its relevance.

According to Todd at Golden Digital (via David), it took only Vietnam 5 years to get up and going on the Internet. The young generation that is looking for inspiration, the very inspiration the Big Show used to provide, are finding that information easily online. They do not need to wait one year to see it on display.

They have probably bookmarked it several months ago and shared it on Facebook or Twitter or by email to friends. Internet is changing our ways of working and making certain elements and business models obsolete. It is the nature of evolution. Improve or die. Improving the packaging does not mean that the product itself is improved.

To me, personally, by attending an event such as the Big Show, it doesn’t give me much anymore. Except the possibility to actually bump into interesting people. To me, it is more an networking opportunity than an actual learning experience. It didn’t used to be like that. 10 years ago with slow internet access and few book stores, information was highly prized. These days you order on Amazon.com and get it shipped. Some bookstores even will do that for you and deliver to your door these days. Internet has changed Vietnam and it is still changing rapidly. The recent BarCamp gathering is gaining serious traction and more IT companies are relocation to Vietnam.

For a design student, yes, it is interesting to see work on display, however, what you need as a student is not the finished product but a peak at the process. How you got to that idea is far more interesting to know than seeing the final product. What sparks your imagination? What gets you inspired? These are the important questions.

People in the creative industry are complaining how hard it is to find local creative talent and how they wish the local design education could improve. Well, to only see the final product, you feed the industry of copyist that will take what they see and, well, copy that. They will not understand the creative process. They will not be used to do research. They will not be used to do analysis. They will not innovate.

By showing end results only, you will not create the opportunity to learn from the process. In the past, having access to international work was an inspiration as there was very difficult to access that information otherwise, however, technology has made that information so accessible that the need is no longer there.

Next step on the evolution ladder is to understand more about the process and foster an environment that can be creative and innovative. We don’t need more technical jockeys, we need innovators.

One of the remaining strengths of The Big Show is that it highlights the creative industry in the media, but how about extending the current scope and try to look at other ways to bring better value. To evolve and improve.

Watching re-runs.

Walking at the show the day after was sobering. Still a few visitors to the show. Lots of families with kids that did not come for the show but for their weekly family trip to the Zoo. Saigon does not have many child friendly places and activities and the zoo is one of the most popular ones. The biggest crowd gatherer was not the work on display, but the artists drawing portraits for the public. The stage was empty. The screen showing re-runs of the reels. Staff sitting around waiting for the time to pass so they could wrap it all up.

Imagine the effort put into creating the event. The marketing material produced, the advertising of the event, the building of the stage and different booths. All the staff to make it happen. For mainly a one night stand. The opening of the show.

How about using the next day inviting the local agencies for short presentations? Make and publish a schedule. Get people to come and listen and see the work and hear about the process the day after. Get more out of the event than just an evening. BarCamp is successful for the presentations. People come to listen. To learn. There is a real interest here. Evolve and be part of the progress or wither as a dinosaur. The show will always go on.

Critics of BarCamp are saying it is too long between the events. They want it more often. The same I say about The Big Show. Once a year is not enough in the current state. Daily I can access international campaigns as they are published online. What I want is interaction. Human interaction.

As they say, find an itch and fix it. Best way to invent a new product or service. Well, Creative Mornings are about to see the light in Saigon. A monthly get together for creatives. Takes place in the mornings only. A healthy stimuli. Scheduled for launch in January. Stay tuned!

The show goes on.

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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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Photography

“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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