I few weeks ago I had a pretty cool assignment come in: to photograph the sunrise, along with nine other photographers around the world at the same time, and the kicker: it was to be shot on a phone! I can’t say which make or model just yet, but more on that will come soon enough, when I’m allowed to talk as it were 🙂
I could shoot anywhere really, so I chose to go to Nam Du island, which sits about 2.5 hours off the western coast of the Mekong Delta by speed boat. It was a place I had recently only heard about, and with some further research it looked interesting to me for two reasons. First, it’s not too touristy, in fact it’s very local (though there were a few pink hat tour groups around but our paths didn’t cross too much). And secondly, it had some pretty stunning natural beauty and sat on a wide open east facing ocean. Perfect for sunrise in theory… In theory! But the weather gods did not shine up on me on the morning of the assignment, and I had to shoot the whole thing in the rain, with the most boring and colorless sky I’ve ever seen! At least the phone was waterproof, but still I wasn’t too happy! In any case, sometimes you gotta play the hand you’re dealt…
Anyway, here are a number of images I shot around the island over a few days, when the sky was kind enough to cooperate. Just like few other places I’ve been this year, the locals say ‘it was beautiful here last week!’ Thanks, that really helps! It wasn’t entirely bad, and as you’ll see below, and I did manage to squeak out some light and shots eventually.
First, let’s the landscapes out of the way, so you can see what and where I’m talking about, and I can get back to shooting people and faces!
Nam Du is actually part of an archipelago of about 21 islands, with Hon Lon, or big island, the only one with accommodations, but a few others are inhabited as well and visitable for day trips by boat (which we didn’t manage get around to this time).
The image above one was shot from the lighthouse in the last hour or two we were there, as the weather decided to be an ass on the several other previous attempts. It’s actually in a military zone, and we tried to go up once but were shut down. Eventually, we met a local fixer, aka a guy having breakfast next to us, who said he could take us up there, and for a mere 5 bucks, he got us in and the views were pretty spectacular!
Of course being situated in the ocean in Vietnam, it’s also a major seafood port with several fishing villages dotting the coasts around the island.
This one is a little receptive I know, but if you zoom in, there’s a little hidden message 😉
So, on to see some of the people who call this island home. The first afternoon we rented a motorbike and headed out to explore, and in one of the villages I came across some colorful and playful kids.
The boy in red is a different kid than above, and actually a different village, but I just realized they looked quite the same. These guys were playing hide and seek, with the most popular place to hide it seemed being inside the big blue barrel there, but of course that was the first place the seeker looked. Not sure the logic on that one…
She was sitting over an empty well and quite shy, but I snuck off this frame that I kinda like.
Of course I gotta get in a few black and white frames as well! Three generations work to untangle the fishing nets, a daily task and one that I could only image would give me a massive headache…
Driving around the coast at sunset, we found these ladies and girls jumping rope with plucked vines. The scene was just too perfect not to shoot, and I even jumped with them for a minute to break the ice as it were, until I embarrassingly broke the ‘rope’ and quietly retreated to just taking photos…
Fisherman de-board their docked boats to play a little football on the pier at dusk.
Once night had fallen, we gathered on the water’s edge, where the island’s few eateries were found. There’s wasn’t really much of a menu as it were, you could either buy some fresh seafood at the pier and ask them to prepare it for you, or just kinda see whatever they had available to eat, which we ended up doing most nights. As a little dinner entertainment, a few guys would jump in the water periodically with a small headlamp and a net and scoop up these tiny fish, minnows as I could see, though in Vietnamese they’re called cá tự tử, or the fish not afraid to die. Not real sure why, but I thought it was funny!
Sitting at dinner the first night, we met Thao, a friendly and small framed 11 year old selling lottery tickets. After some chatting, she tells us she’s never been to school, has 3 younger siblings, and that her parents basically drink and gamble their days away while they make her go out to earn money. Quite a sad story, but one that could be found all too often on the streets of Vietnam. We would see her mostly at night, where I’d try to joke and play with her, and bought her a few drinks and bites to eat. She even gave us a crab one night which someone had given her. We told her we didn’t need it, and to take it home to her family, but she said she’d get in more trouble for not bringing enough for everyone.
Another time we met her was early morning, while most other children in the village were eating breakfast and on their way to school, yet Thao stood watching them, holding her infant brother wrapped in an oversized coat. I could only wonder what she thinks each day, watching these kids be able to learn and play, while she must essentially act like an adult so her parents don’t have to. Until the government here ensures that every child has the opportunity and right to be educated, Vietnam has no chance of becoming the developed and modern country it wants to become.
The next morning was the scouting day for my assignment, so I could figure out the best shots and locations for the following morning when the shoot was live. We got up for sunrise, which actually turned out to be the best one of the trip, as it was pouring the next morning when I got up to shoot the real gig. Just after the sun broke, the villages were full of life and the light was pretty nice… for a while… then the rain came, of bloody course!
Fisherman in the process of docking their boat at the main pier.
As I said, the late morning and early afternoon were nothing but wet, so we took that time for a little indoor nap, recovering from the 430am wake up. Later that afternoon, things were clear for a bit, so we headed out to explore some more. In another fishing village we found these kids playing. The boy on the right, Thai, 12, was actually on our boat out to the island and we saw him again the previous afternoon, so upon seeing him this time, he said ’em gap anh ba lan roi, I’ve met you three times! I concurred, and after a quick chat, he went back to horseplay with his friends. I think he was on our boat on the way home too, and I wanted to tell him ‘4 times’ but didn’t see him on the boat or when we got off.
After the village like was winding down, we headed back to the pier for the blue hour, which turned out to be one of my favorite places and times on the island, as life unfolded on the stationary boats and at the makeshift seafood shops that sprung up each night with the day’s fresh catch for sale.
The last morning and our last few hours on the island, we got up for sunrise again, but after a few short minutes of light, the rain came again, and rushed us right back to our room and back to bed! Eventually, we got up again and after heading up to the lighthouse for the shot you saw above, I went for one last stroll looking for images. Here, a guy lays out fish to dry in the sun.
This lady, who sells the dried fish, told us she first came to the island in 1975 following her husband, and at that time was so lonely and bored that she would sit on the rock edge each night and cry. I guess since then she’s become content with her life here.
Just as I was standing on the pier, about to board our boat back to the mainland, I saw these guys unloading ice from a large boat onto a waiting cart. I was pretty amazed that the ice didn’t melt in their long trips across the sunny waters, cause god knows it was warm out to say the least!
I don’t really want to show you this image, but I think it’s important. All over the island, as many other beautiful places in Vietnam, trash is found just thrown and scattered around, destroying the otherwise natural beauty. Countless times everywhere around the country, and Asia in general, I see people throw their trash on the ground as if they think it will just disappear. It’s really sad to me that their treat their homeland this way, and I really wish the government and/or their own people would start to understand the impacts of this and use a trash can. It’s really not that hard!!
So, to follow up that ugly image, I’ll close with a few much more beautiful ones!
Of course my lovely girlfriend came along to act as translator, fixer, cuddle partner, model and probably a few other crucial roles. Over the few days we were there, we did a little ‘fashion’ shoot a few times, and made some pretty nice images if I do say so myself…
And finally in closing, a few images that kinda say it all…