2013 has come and nearly gone, and left behind memories and images just like each before it. A calendar year is a fairly long time by definition, and can encompass a wide variety of different images, work and assignments. I have here a somewhat liberal section of the highlights of my year that I’d like to share with those of you who may like my work. Fair warning given now, there is quite a range of pictures to see, and a bit to read, but I have attempted to shorten things as much as possible. You’ll also find some further images and slideshows hidden behind text, so just click to see more if you’re up for it.
This year actually started out in Ohio, on the other side of the planet from the Asia I’ve called home for the past decade, but where my true spirit of home will always lie. A visit during the holiday season with my girlfriend, offered the chance for her to see snow for the first time, and for us to try to make a few images that blended the two cultures, American and Vietnamese, together a bit, aka, I put her in a very thin traditional Vietnamese dress called an ao dai, and we went to play in the snow!
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I was also stoked to collaborate on a music video with one of my oldest hometown friends, who’s also a very talented musician and artist. He had just recorded a song recently which I really liked, and over a few days, we shot this video. It played out something like this: 3 minutes outside, 10 minutes back in the car to warm up, but eventually we had it all in the can and we could stay inside to edit. This is a video from Gran Bel Fisher called “Must I Believe”
Before I left I had to go visit another old friend. Very few days go by when he doesn’t enter my thoughts. I know he’s looking down, still laughing and enjoying life with us.
Once I got back to Vietnam, straight away I started working at a new magazine called Oi Vietnam. That lasted until October this year, but as you work down this page, you’ll see several other things I shot for them. Here were the first few assignments:
One of the more interesting places I’ve learned about since living here for quite a few years, which I coined “Cougar Club” Actually, it’s more proper name is taxi dancing, but the basic premise is that women pay younger men to dance with them at these special clubs. At first I thought I would get a lot of disapproving looks as I tried to photograph, but surprisingly, no one seemed to pay any attention to me.
Following this was the first fashion shoot for Oi. I won’t share all of the shots or even published images, but just a few I like.
To wrap up the first issue, our cover story was about the life that takes places on the streets of the city. Unlike in the west, where most activities take place behind walls or doors, in Vietnam, it’s all out on the street for the world to see. These were just a few of the frames I shot while out exploring the city. While there are things to shoot everywhere, I think my time here, seeing these kinds of things everyday, has left me with a bit of a jade, and it actually wasn’t that easy for me to see images I really wanted to shoot.
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Moving on to the next issue, I got an assignment which I thought was really right down my alley, in which I was able to create the kinds of images I most like capturing. The story was about dymstifying the Vietnamese funeral, which for those of us who live here, is something we see and hear on the streets all the time. Please follow this link to read my blog post if you’d like to learn more.
There are two main types of funeral ceremonies you would find here, Buddhist and Catholic. This one happened to be the Catholic variety, which should be fairly obvious from the decor of the casket.
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Next up was another fashion shoot, this one sort of Japanese themed.
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This year I also did a lot of work for magazines outside of Vietnam. This was a portrait I did for a Swedish magazine called Filter, about the founder of a furniture/housewares company here in Vietnam, that kind of resembles Ikea, where he was employed for some years before.
These may not follow an exact chronological order, but sometime right around late spring, I took a little trip to my girlfriend’s hometown, trading my usual digital weapons for a Mamiya 645 I had picked up on eBay recently. We found an old downed US warplane, which actually seemed like the perfect thing to shoot a roll of BW film on!
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Another fashion shoot for Oi shot sometime in May. This time, we braved the sweltering heat to shoot outside, but sort of really learned a lesson from that, and did all the rest of the shoots inside!
Not long after, I headed up north to Hanoi and beyond, for a bit of work and travel. The first assignment was for another Swedish magazine, for an article about an old paper mill that was set up in the 1970s with the help of the Swedish government. Obviously, this was right at the height of the war with northern Vietnam, so you can imagine the US may not have been that happy about it. Anyway, all is good these days, and the paper mill is still there, though now showing it’s age a bit, and finding it increasingly difficult to compete with other countries also producing paper in the region. This story seemed to be of fairly great interest in Sweden, but I’m not sure the rest of world would say as much…
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After a bit of work, it was time for a bit of fun. There happened to be an exhibition in Hanoi by Yayoi Kusma aka the Japanese queen of polka dots. I went to check it out with my brother, and snapping a few frames was obviously inevitable.
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Once I had enough of Hanoi, I was set to head up even farther north to one of the most remote provinces in Vietnam called Ha Giang. It rests on the Chinese border, and is home to some stunning mountains and views, and the best part, without really any tourism at all! Below are a few of the images from this trip, and more can be seen in the slideshow of a project I have been working on in other similar provinces up there called “Under Great Northern Skies”
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After almost two weeks away, it was time to get back to Saigon and back to some of my duties at Oi. One morning, I got an interesting email asking if I wanted to be among a selected few journalists and photographers to board a French warship that was docked in Vietnam for a few days. It seemed like quite a rare opportunity, so of course I said yes, and a few days later, sure enough…
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One of the last fashion shoots I did for Oi, or at least the last one I’ll post here.
This is where the summer got pretty busy…A number of assignments and client shoots seemed to come in all at once, and I had to fit those around some other plans I already had to head back up north. In no exact order per say, one of the assignments I got was from Le Monde, a French newspaper, but actually for their weekend magazine called M. It took me around to a few places in the city, one of which was Chill Saigon, a skybar 27 floors up , which offers pretty amazing views of the downtown, and it’s also quite a swanky joint.
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The next morning I think it was, I had to catch at early morning flight down to the edge of the Mekong Delta for an assignment with an Australian NGO, who were helping a local church teach English and other life skills to children in a quite remote and impoverished area. Being summer in southern Vietnam, which means the height of the rainy season, I was also working on a photo essay about rain, and since I was already up on a wet 5am morning for my flight, I thought I might as well have my camera out and see what I could capture. Below are few scenes of that, and then a few from the what I shot for the NGO.
Once on the ground, this where I was to spend the next few days.
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Once back in Saigon after a few days in Kien Giang, I had plans to travel up north again, but they got a little bit changed at the last moment. I had planned to join a group of volunteer students going to do some work in a rural village where many are affected by leprosy, to help of course, but to also continue my project on this topic. Just a day or so before I was to head out, I got an email about a big assignment here in the south. The only problem was that it wouldn’t be confirmed for few more days, after I would already be up north. So, I went ahead and took the flight to hang out in Hanoi for a day or two anyway as planned, waiting for the email to confirm if I would carry on as planned, or return back to the south for the assignment. Shortly after, the assignment got confirmed, and I changed my plans and tickets to head south. However, I still had a few days to spend, so we shifted gears a bit, and just took a little bike trip out to Mai Chau, a beautiful, peaceful valley of rice fields about 3 hours out of Hanoi. I think we got pretty lucky, as I don’t think I’ve ever found more beautiful light, before or since, in Vietnam. Here are a few of the images.
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The sort of last minute assignment I mentioned above was this, a week with Habitat for Humanity, who were to build 25 new houses with over 250 international volunteers flying in just for this. Of course we all know about what they do, but I had never seen them in action before, and I have to say, it was one of the most inspiring jobs I’ve ever had. Seeing how the volunteers gave their all in the blistering sun of Vietnam, and how the soon-to-be home owners lives’ would be changed by having 4 solid walls, a roof and a non-dirt floor they could reside in, it was all pretty amazing. Here are just few of the things I captured as I saw these houses go from the first brick to the handover of the keys in just 6 days!
These were the typical living conditions they’ve always known before Habitat was able to help.
After just a day or two, it became a bit tricky to shoot almost nothing but bricks and people, especially when each of the 25 scenes of construction looked very similar, but every once in a while I would get a little creative vision pop in front of me!
As I said, the whole week was quite inspiring, but this lady might have been the best of it all. At 81 years old, she wasn’t afraid to climb up on a scaffold and lay bricks and mortar just like the 16 year old boy next to her. It should really make us reconsider what we think and what we know about what’s possible. Pretty amazing stuff!
Of course it wasn’t just the volunteers doing all the work. The new home recipient’s family also did everything they could to help Habitat bring their new dwelling into fruition.
While not really an amazing picture by any means, their story was quite interesting. These guys were all veterans of the war in Vietnam, and had made their first return in 40 years to, as they put it, ‘try to do some good to undo the bad stuff they did here four decades ago’.
And this was the culmination of 6 days of blood, sweat and blisters, seeing the the uncontrollable tears of joy stream from the faces of those who now have a safe abode they can now call home for their families.
The week with Habitat wrapped up and was delivered right about the time another fairly large project was just starting. It was my birthday I think, when I signed the contract for a gig with a local high-end tour company to shoot some new images for their photo library and marketing materials. This one took me to the Mekong Delta (again!), Hanoi, Halong Bay, and of course Saigon. Below are a few of the images from these excursions.
Saigon has its share of Buddhist pagodas, but I think after living here (and in Asia) for so long, after a year or so, I never really found them interesting or could make a photograph that I liked in them, but on this day, I visited a few around the city shooting for the client, and I guess something just clicked (no pun intended) and I was able to make a few frames that both of us liked!
Moving back down to the Delta, these were few scenes that crossed my lens that I thought were interesting.
Monks in a Khmer (Cambodian) monastery near the border, but on the Vietnamese side.
Scared? This is a crocodile farm where you can feed them with meat dangling from fishing poles, or eat them of course.
Also near the Cambodian border, this place is called the flooded forest. Visitors are led through by a hand-paddled boat. Pretty cool place, but I have to say, I don’t like having my camera that close to water!
A Cham woman takes a bath near the pier in front of her village.
Moving back up to Hanoi, this is the holy land for all Vietnamese people. The beloved Ho Chi Minh rests here, open to the public some mornings to view his well-preserved body. It’s closed for several months a year, when it’s believed he’s flown to Russia for ‘maintenance”
This assignment ended in Halong Bay, which wasn’t a bad place to be working I have to say…
Once all these shoots done were wrapped up and delivered, it was just about the end of September, and approaching a very recently planned, but highly anticipated trip; 2 weeks in Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma! Partly for my girlfriends birthday, partly because of an amazing ticket price, and partly because I just really wanted to go back, it was time to hit the road again. These travels have already been fairly recently and extensively blogged about, so please follow the links below for more images from each place. For here and now, I”m just gonna go with my favorite frame from each place.
I think here I’d like to share some projects I’ve been working on this year, though both are still very much ongoing efforts. The first is actually a story I worked on a few years ago, but in video form, and this year I decided I needed to continue work in still images. The project is called “I Am Now’ and looks at the ongoing, modern day effects of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Below is the project introduction and the slideshow follows. I do warn you, some of the images can be a bit difficult to digest, but I would emphasize that this is real life in 2013, and is not something we should ignore, no matter how difficult to view.
“I Am Now” is the beginnings of a long term personal project looking at the modern day effects of dioxin, more commonly known as Agent Orange, in Vietnam. Most associate this chemical with the warfare that happened here four decades ago, but far fewer are aware that the effects of one of the most toxic substances ever made by man, still continue today, and are estimated to continue for up to five more generations. It can take hold of the body in many different, yet now fairly predictable ways. Physical defects, mental defects, and at worst, both. Some of the luckier ones have dealt with the disability, and are working toward fruitful lives. Others, with no such speck of hope, remain caged in their body and whatever thoughts might be in their mind. They did nothing to deserve this. Their parents did nothing to deserve this. No humans on Earth did anything to deserve this. How can corporations, governments and man unleash such substances on the world, and then wash their hands of it, offering not a single shred of responsibility? Countless stories and images of these plights have already been recorded, yet in order for us to never forget, I will continue to show that this is happening right now, and every instance of now into the foreseeable future.
A second project I began in the fall, called ‘Half Cast”, looks at Amerasians, or those who were fathered by western soldiers during the Vietnam war 40 years ago. Many have gone to live in the west, and many have not, instead, growing up in Vietnam, but with an appearance that makes the different that the rest. Most have not had easy lives. In Vietnam, without your family history on paper, you are almost nobody, and not entitled to any government help, as little as it may be. Some have found the fathers in the US, and are trying to do all the paperwork to be allowed to join them, which of course is not easy either. A few of the first images I’ve captured are in a slideshow below, and many more stories should follow soon in the next year.
Well, for the most part, that wraps up my year in images. I hope you enjoyed, and of course feel free to follow me here on my blog and other places around the web for what’s to come next year!