When I frame the image I try to look at the foreground, middle ground and background. I also think about what it is I want to see in the image beforehand.
A camera is a tool.
My name is Loes Heerink, 29 years old. I was born and raised in the Netherlands. I bought a Sony when I was 19.
There was a dragonfly in my parents garden and I thought it was so beautiful. I wanted to enjoy it in the winter too so I decided to buy a camera. I spent days in my parents’ pond to take a photo of it, like literally in the pond. I realised dragonflies fly in some kind of pattern. I picked a nice spot and waited patiently. When it finally sat down and I knew I got the settings right I was so happy! I never really put the camera down after that. I learned how to shoot in manually years after. Probably somewhere in 2014.
What made you choose this project? When I first arrived in Vietnam in 2011 I immediately liked the street vendors. All the colours. But more importantly all the stuff they carry on their cycles! I am from the Netherlands. My family owes more bicycles then it counts people. I also have two cycles. I was impressed. I wanted to take a picture of the vendors without any of the distraction of the city on the background. Just the vendors.
While waiting on the bridges I got a glimpse into the lives of the vendors. They all seem to know each other, make a chat and walk on again. The vendors really inspired me.
As much as I like Hanoi, the hustle and bustle just seemed a distraction to the vendors. So I decided to go up, take a higher vantage point. While waiting on the bridges I got a glimpse into the lives of the vendors. They all seem to know each other, make a chat and walk on again.
The vendors really inspired me. They are so kind and every single one of them I spoke to let me into their lives and told me their story. I think street vendors make Hanoi the city that it is. It is so convenient, plus all the colours! I hope in ten years, or twenty years there will still be street vendors in Hanoi.
What was the main obstacle you faced? Not a lot, rainy days maybe. And sometimes no vendors walked past the bridge for hours.
When and where did you capture these images? In 2015 from August to December and in March 2017.
What made you fall in love with photography? The thrill of chasing good pictures. I really like that moment when you know you got the shot you have been thinking of. With the vendors series, it took me some months to get a flower vendor on a picture, when I finally saw a flower vendor approach I was ready for the shot, I took the shot and I knew it was a good shot! I was so happy!
Who inspire you? French photographer Rehanh, Hans Kemp of course. But also Chris Burkhard and Pie Aerts.
Where do you see yourself going within the next few years? I don’t know. I will just continue walking on my photography projects like I am doing now. We will see where it leads. Or not leads 🙂
What is your advice to other artists? You can only get better. Each time I go out photographing I grow as a photographer. Looking back at my pictures I try to think about what makes it good or what could I have done to make it better.
Photography to me is a form of self-expression, whether it is the recording of an image in an unusual way, or as at present sharing a different form of art.
When I frame an image I do so after evaluating carefully the subject and its surroundings to create the maximum impact.
The camera to me is a mechanical instrument, which can be manipulated to create a variety of effects.
My search for a new process continued, with many disappointments along the way until I found what I now call Chromography.
I’m Les Roberts, originally from North Wales in the UK. My earliest recollections are of my accomplished father’s passion for cine photography. Possibly because of his passion I became interested instead in still photography. The work of Ansel Adams enthralled me. Over time I came to reflect on the power of still photography. All the iconic events in the recent history of the world are frozen in time in photographs. The moving image is for me a transient affair.
In my youth the local mountains beckoned me and armed with my Voigtlander I started taking rock-climbing photos. At the age of sixteen, I had my first home processed print published in a boys’ monthly magazine. I met many skilled photographers who were generous with their advice. One great influence on me was a dear friend, the late Wally Nelson A.R.P.S. He showed me how to keenly observe my surroundings wherever I was. I remember him telling me, “When looking for a shot walk from right to left you will see much more.”
I am still doing so when out and about. I also developed an urge to create something different, often spending hours experimenting.
I tried many forms of photography, but it was macro that really appealed to me. Sitting in a bank of wildflowers patiently waiting for that elusive butterfly to appear became a regular event. This process was, in fact, my only use of colour film apart from family photos. All my other photography was in black and white.
Later while working with disabled children I introduced them to photography, including printing their own black and white photos. The impact on their self-esteem was tremendous.
While working in education I was also chairman of the local photographic society several times and a tutor for the British Amateur Photographers Association. At about this time I was persuaded to shoot a wedding for some friends. The shots were ok, but it was an experience never to be repeated. When it was over I felt like a hack or worse.
My search for a new process continued, with many disappointments along the way until I found what I now call Chromography.
It all started when I spilt some paint into a bowl of water. As I looked I could see a reaction taking place. I watched and saw something totally new unfold. I then began to experiment in a more structured way. It is a process that is both rewarding and frustrating.
Using just one colour quickly led to the introduction of several colours. Pushing the boundary further I started to combine different paints that were incompatible.
Experimenting with different chemicals and fluids a further discovery emerged.
Different fluids, which I now refer to as active agents, react in different ways. Some have minimal effect, while others can be more active. This activity can be aggressive, causing different paints to react in ways that show they are trying to overcome one another.
Others can have a calming effect on the combination of incompatible paints with active agents. These fluids range from chemicals to liquid household products.
Throughout the interaction between the elements, changes can be seen to develop. This is in the form of movement. Regular observation is necessary to capture and record the changes. This process can take hours, days and sometimes weeks. The purple and red example included as part of this introduction took six weeks to mature. After maturation, the decay sets in and the image is lost.
A further development is the use of different materials as a base for the colours. The range involves silk, nylon, embroidery, plastic-based material, a range of papers including some that are waterproof. Then there is a range of card with different finishes.
An essential element of this process is the addition of active agents. The base material can be soaked in such an agent. A variety of paints are used again with some being injected with a change agent. Again movement can be observed, especially when adding thin colouring to thicker paints. Using one layer on a Perspex or plastic base quickly changed into developing tiers of different materials, some dry and some soaked with different types of change agents.
The variations available are only limited by my own imagination. I have already combined processes and materials that were unlikely stablemates.
I believe I am creating a unique form of art. That might sound pompous, but if you do not believe in yourself nobody else will. What drives me is the desire to push the boundaries further. I plan to work more with plastics including Mylar. I have also just scratched the surface with the use of a limited range of woven materials.
Nothing excites me more than visiting craft and art shops. I collect a range of unlikely materials and then spend hours investigating the possibilities. The camera is the record of my successes and failures. I retain failures for study and, perhaps move on to success.
Chromography is not a process of painting by me. A combination of the elements used to activate the process. I, therefore, do not consider myself an artist. A brush is never used.
Fluids and paints are injected onto, or into the host by hypodermic syringes, sometimes with needles, sometimes without, together with some tiny squeezy bottles and droppers.
All chemicals and applicators are bought over the counter from my local pharmacy.
I have experienced a lot of frustration during my journey of discovery. Most importantly I have never given up. I have always ‘thought outside the box’, and I believe in doing so I shall continue. I live alone and this has allowed me to turn my apartment into a workshop and utilise the spare bedroom as a storeroom for the considerable range of items that I keep available for further development.
Above all, I would advise others to follow their dream. Create their own images and never cease to learn from your experience or from the advice of friends.
A small selection of my work, which is regularly changed, appears on Facebook: Les Roberts Chromography Wall Art Vietnam.
Marketing is through either myself or Creative Images Studios Saigon. The latter also displays my work.
A standing exhibition, which is changed regularly, is found at: Eden, R3-85 Khu Pho Hung Phuoc 1, Phu My Hung, HCMC.
Photography to you means…
Another medium in which to explore and experiment.
When I frame the image…
I make the first in a countless series of decisions.
A camera is…
A tool for initiating, developing or documenting a piece of work.
This time I used my map and numbering system as a reference so I would be able to pinpoint the exact location of any source information gathered, in this case: colours.
Originally I was born and grew up in the UK but since May this year, I have been living in Ho Chi Minh City, arriving from Hong Kong where I had lived for many years. Coincidently I relocated to Vietnam exactly 25 after arriving in Hong Kong, 25 years to the day.
I studied at Leeds Arts University and Northumbria University in the UK and also with RMIT University whilst living in Hong Kong. At college, I concentrated mainly on the making of sculpture with an additional interest in printmaking because of a desire to introduce a more physical aspect to my drawings. Over the years though, constraints such as lack of storage space, the high cost of studio space etc. pushed me to gradually embrace exploration in other, more portable media.
To earn a living I worked as a professional modelmaker for around 15 years, the final 10 years of which was as a partner of a modelmaking company based in Hong Kong.
The skills and awareness of materials gained during this time have proved invaluable and have allowed me more freedom in the decisions I make when making work.
I have also taught art for around 15 years, including 13 years full-time teaching, 7 years in Higher Education. For 3 years I worked on the development of a BA (Hons) Fine Arts degree programme, acting as course leader for the initial cohort of students, seeing them all through to successful graduation.
For a time I pursued threads of investigation in drawing, printmaking and small sculpture but these projects remained quite separate in nature and it took a long time before they began to converge.
These days my work has revealed potential for multiple connections between different media, for example, a drawing may suggest further investigation in relief sculpture, or work towards a digital print may lead to performative walking and psychogeography. I tend to follow the work rather than attempt to push it where I would like it to go.
For the previous few months, I had been working on digital prints that involved the creation of layers within the print’s image with blocks floating on the uppermost layer. The configuration of these blocks was derived from a previous sculpture, made several years earlier, entitled ‘Excavation’. As I had been using cross-hatching to differentiate between the blocks within the image I felt that the print had taken on some of the imagery I had noticed within geologist’s maps, notably the way they employ a range of graphic patterns to denote the various geological materials present in the area covered by the map.
These digital prints were abstract in appearance and also abstract in the sense that they did not refer to actual locations. As I had recently moved to Vietnam, the thought came to me that I should create the next print based upon an actual location here in Saigon.
From a downloaded map of a certain area within District 7 of the city, I made a simplified version and numbered the road junctions. These intersections would be the focal points of the image in the print. The numbering of the junctions allowed me to keep a record of particular details collected. In total, there were thirty-four intersections within the area I studied.
I had walked around the area to gain an overview and a general feeling for the area but now was the time to revisit the location with a specific aim in mind. This time I used my map and numbering system as a reference so I would be able to pinpoint the exact location of any source information gathered, in this case: colours.
As I had already become familiar with an app for the mobile phone that allowed for the collection of ambient colours in a chosen location, I had confidence that it could contribute to my working method. Using this app I collected a colour sample for each of the thirty-four road intersections and used them as place-markers in my digital print. Of course, the app was only a data gathering tool, whereas I would retain the final say in how that data would be used.
Back in my studio, I isolated each of the collected colours and created a square-format swatch for each of them. This made it easier for me to review and drop them into place in my print.
Although systems-based strategies intrigue me, I always prefer to retain the final say based on considerations of the composition.
My work is often described as being conceptual in nature; nevertheless, I work with a mindset in which I grant the final say to the work itself, which is necessarily interpreted by me. I keep an eye out for unexpected serendipity, chance encounters or unpredictable outcomes if they appear to resolve the logic of the work. My working method could be described as systems-based but tempered with an editing process that is driven by an instinctive judgment developed through experience.
The final appearance of the digital print included overall grid lines to tie all the blocks together, but these are rendered in grey to push them back in space a little, contributing to the layering effect. The grid could provide a frame of reference without being too dominant in the hierarchy of elements.
As the placing of the colours within the print relates to the location where they were collected, the final configuration of the print could be read as constituting a map of the area studied.
Whether or not anyone would be able to use the print as a map when negotiating their way through the area remains debatable.
The user would need to be sensitive to the ambient colours, and the colours themselves may change over time. Some colours were collected from flowers and others from local advertising. Both of these elements could be subject to change, thereby removing points of reference. There is nothing to say that the print should or should not be regarded as a map, or whether it should function successfully as a map. The mere suggestion that the print could be regarded as a map could work as a trigger to initiate a line of thought for the audience. This line of thought is quite personal to each viewer, allowing each individual to create their own meaning for the work.
The work was printed out in an edition of 30 and with an overall paper size of A3. I envisioned the work as a personal psychogeographic exploration of the area. For this project, the aim was twofold: to become more familiar with the area and to take particular notice of the colours found at certain locations within that area.
Photography to you means: A great deal. Sebastian Salgado explained it best: “Photography is my life. It’s my way of life, and my language.”
When I frame the image: I’m telling a story.
A camera is: A tool for stopping time and starting a dialogue.
Do personal work. Make art that is meaningful to you. Don’t compare yourself to others – no one can be you and express you better than you can.
Please tell us about yourself:
I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe but I have been lucky enough to travel all over since I was very young. My father has travelled to almost every corner of the globe for most of his life, as a pilot, and growing up he inspired me to travel, to try new things and to leap. To risk failure in the pursuit of happiness. Vietnam is the sixth country I have called home, and I have lived in Saigon for seven years so far.
I’m a creative person at heart. My mother and grandmother were both talented artists. My mother is a skilled painter, and sketch artist and my grandmother was a skilled sculptor. As a child, I was always drawing, building, dismantling things to understand how they worked, painting, and writing short stories. I first picked up a camera at the age of 18 but at the time it was a tool to document family occasions and us kids were not encouraged to use Dad’s camera: it was almost always hidden away. Today I am a portrait photographer, a retoucher. and occasionally, an artist.
Your first camera?
I borrowed the family camera when I left home to study film production and media writing in Cape Town. It was a horrible plastic shit box that devoured 3-volt batteries but it was small and it was: there! A 35mm film camera, not of the charming, well-made mechanical variety but rather the loud, whining, plastic 80’s VCR variety.
It had a ridiculous 10 times zoom feature, and a phallic, plastic Darth Vader-esque member protruded awkwardly outward if you were foolish enough to zoom as this would invariably exhaust the battery. I occasionally used the camera to create storyboards for film courses that I majored in, but mostly I walked around the city capturing scenes that interested me. I was always short of money so the film was a real luxury and developing it was even more so. Later, I began to shoot positive film and slides because I didn’t have to pay to get them printed; I could just hold them up to the light. For my 21’st birthday I was given a Minolta SLR, which I never left home without. It became an extension of my personality.
What made you choose this medium?
I spent most of my childhood and teens in boarding schools, which taught me to be self-reliant but also kept me in school a lot
So, when I left for University, it was to a completely new and alien city. I knew no one there but it was going to be a huge adventure. So, I felt I had no choice, but to liberate the family camera.
Later that year I befriended an assistant working for a commercial photography studio. I recall visiting the studio, which had been set up in what was once a stone church. The greeting area for the studio had huge light panels installed on the walls.
The commercial work was carefully housed behind panes of glass. The images were all medium and large format slides, and monochrome positive slides, some 8 inches by 10 inches in size.
Back-lit by the panels the effect was mesmerizing. Similar to studying a stained-glass window up close. Each frame depicted an expertly composed scene with flawless lighting and the colour was like nothing I had ever seen. I was amazed to see in person what could be achieved with film. Especially since I was at that moment in possession of a film camera.
I was instantly hooked, I started using positive monochromatic film and slide film and I devoted much of the next 10 years of my life to creating moods and colours, attempting to create something close to what I had experienced that day. I found my way back to film fairly recently in Saigon.
The images here are a small selection from a project I began late last year. The project began as a personal challenge to shoot and develop one roll of black and white film every day for 2 weeks, giving me just over 500 frames. This was the plan anyway. I chose to use Kodak Tri-X 400, as it is generally readily available in HCMC if you know where to look, and it is a sharp, contrasty film with a pleasing grain. At least to me.
I quickly found, however, that despite my best efforts, I was wasting a lot of film rolls. I had chosen to capture candid street scenes, an area of photography that I am new to and one that demands a great deal in terms of skill, style, luck and persistence.
So, after developing, scanning and discussing my failures with friends, darkroom pro’s, and scan shop aficionados, I resolved to archive the first 10 rolls in a distant and obscure folder and to start afresh. I continued to shoot Tri-X 400 but I resolved to get closer to my subjects and to only press the shutter if I knew exactly what I wanted the image to say. Only if I knew the frame contained a story and had a purpose. The selection here is a small collection from rolls 11 to 25. Or 1-15 depending on how you look at things. The project is ongoing.
What made you choose this project?
It was difficult. It was different from the digital work and extensive retouching that I had done a lot of. It would challenge me and encourage me to explore the city. It would force me to learn how to develop, work within the limitations of the format. It would be a chance to create something more honest, since I have not altered the image in any way – not even contrast adjustments nor sharpening in Lightroom. But more than all of this the project would force me to create more collaboratively.
It is rare that a film photographer does everything alone unless s/he owns a darkroom. Thus, every frame is seen by at least, it’s creator, the darkroom owner (to ensure that the chemicals are fresh etc) other photographers using the darkroom, then the scanner(s) and finally back to the owner. A single process is often a communal effort, and this body of work improved when I sought feedback and applied what I had learned. In short, I started the project to learn a different approach to my craft and so far I have learned a great deal.
When and where did you capture these images?
These images were captured in Saigon. I explored several districts, but the ones included here are from District 4 and 5.
Who inspires you?
People. Faces, expressions, movements, gestures, and interactions, because the smallest look or gesture can tell a story and make or break an image. Also, good art and well-conceived, well-crafted work.
Where do you see yourself going within the next few years?
I would like to be creating more work, to have evolved and improved as a creative. I see myself continuing to work with like-minded creatives, photographers, artists, designers, models and stylists on projects that challenge and inspire me.
What is your advice to other artists?
Do personal work. Make art that is meaningful to you. Don’t compare yourself to others – no one can be you and express you better than you can. Set expectations and goals and push yourself. Work hard and strive to master your craft. Be kind. Be helpful. Smile.
Learn from mistakes and failures. Try not to take yourself or your work too seriously. Some may seem generic, but they have worked for me.
A project means a chance to learn something new – a good one is always worth more than the sum of its parts.
When I build I am looking for some chemistry between a material and a story or concept.
A story is a very slippery thing with far too many angles.
My name’s Ben, I come from Snowdonia – a very beautiful, rural part of Wales in the United Kingdom. As a kid I was obsessed with gods and monsters and spent all my time reading, drawing and building ridiculous dens and catapults. It seemed like a natural progression to channel all of these interests into a career in art – so I set my heart on becoming a serious painter.
Luckily for me, this idea was destroyed in college when I found out that I could spend all my time learning lots of different ‘small skills’ instead. I have not looked back since.
I moved to HCMC to teach art over 3 years ago – it was a big deal for me travelling to Vietnam, it would be my first time living in a big city. Since then I have fallen hard for the pure scale, opportunity and mesh of cultures that is Saigon.
I particularly enjoy the range and availability of materials – from scrap on street corners to the huge fabric, metal and paper markets. Most of my time is spent salvaging, fixing, breaking and building things in my workshop in Bình Thạnh while working as an art teacher, freelance artist and fabricator.
My art practice consists of many different disciplines. Right now I’m really interested in mixing sculpture, costume and animation to explore ideas of identity and background. I tend to use a combination of different media to play with a story or idea, often twisting something traditional by mixing it with something current.
I draw a lot of inspiration from artists like Charles Avery and Cornelia Parker who use a huge range of objects and practices in their work.
The Kitsuné project started as a tribute to the female role models in my life, mixed with elements of a shape-shifting character from Japanese folklore. I made a collection of sculptures and animation machines that changed and shifted depending on movement and light; I loved the idea of building something delicate that could take on a fierce or independent character.
The problem was that by focusing on the changing persona of the character, I ended up highlighting a common trope in the mythology of female characters being untrustworthy, alien and imbalanced – contrary to the very core of the project.
However, after finishing these pieces, I quickly became dissatisfied with the results. The problem was that by focusing on the changing persona of the character, I ended up highlighting a common trope in the mythology of female characters being untrustworthy, alien and imbalanced – contrary to the very core of the project. I also began to question if there was any way to carry the project forward without reinforcing an outsider’s view on femininity and womanhood. What did I, as a middle-class white boy, know about being a woman in modern-day Vietnam?
The simplest answer seemed to be to ask people who would know better, so I opened the project up. It is now a growing communal piece. Using the same mix of bamboo and nylon I built a semi-transparent fox mask – something that would half reveal and half blur the subject’s identity with that of the Kitsuné fox. Each subject is then photographed with the Kitsuné mask and answers 2 questions.
Her response is added to a growing anonymous archive of thoughts and opinions from a variety of women across Vietnam. There are only 2 conditions: – Subject identifies as female/feminine – Subject must have spent at least a year living in Vietnam. The project is ongoing. if you or someone you know if interested in joining, drop me an email.
Photography is for me the extension of an intense but elusive emotion of Beauty in the world. I am captivated by the power of an image (photographic or not), in love with it and being able to create one is the most exhilarating thing I know.
When I frame the image I sometimes find myself overthinking geometry, lines, or directions. This may be the result of having taught the same photography classes for too long.
A camera is a poetic device.
Photography is my happy place. Light and Time and Space. How they intertwine together is so much more than pushing a button. The Light moves me so deeply, I could almost cry, it makes me feel it all so much more. Photography freezes time, holds it still on the surface while digging deep in the human consciousness to expose our relation to memories and time passing by.
All of this, contained in the space of a frame. How you arrange the elements, the decisions you make about depth, what you do about the off-camera is just as important as what you put in. All of this resonates within me.
I came to Vietnam in 2010 initially for a three months trip, and after three weeks I decided not to return home. This is somehow a common story you hear among foreigners in Vietnam.
I am out there in front of the world, from the fringe looking at it, and at the same time I am fully engaged in it, I am all in. I came to Vietnam in 2010 initially for a three months trip, and after three weeks I decided not to return home. This is somehow a common story you hear among foreigners in Vietnam.
What makes my story a little different though is the strong familial bond that I have with Hanoi. My grandfather was born in Hanoi from a French family established in colonial Vietnam since at least 1880; he grew up here as well as his sister. In 1950 he was sent to Vietnam as a surgeon to run a field hospital north of Hue. He left Vietnam before the battle of Dien Bien Phu.
About his childhood, I have very few details as he rarely talked about it. After he passed away, my family discovered, forgotten on a shelf for decades, old photo albums. These came from my grandfather’s own grandfather.
As a photographer, I naturally became very interested in these. There were a lot of photos of the railway construction he worked on. But it was the landscape photos that I liked the most. These old black and white landscape where the only images I had purposely looked at before coming to Vietnam. I did not want to look at modern images to not spoil the surprise.
I wanted a cultural shock to shake my preconceived ideas. And what a shock it was, that did not stop me from falling deeply in love with the country. My first camera was a Minolta SLR my parents had given me when I was 16 years old, I think. My dad is an amateur watercolour artist who can draw well. I always wanted to do the same but could not draw as well as him and very early on I got self-conscious about it and stopped pursuing it.
I liked the idea of photography though; taking photos was a lot more pleasant. I could easily capture the moments when I would feel something strongly about seeing the world. I played around for a bit but I had no idea what it was really all about. I really started learning the craft later in the USA during a year abroad program. I had teachers who were very supportive of my work and without whom I would not be here today. They gave me the confidence to go study first in a Fine Art school and later on in a photography school.
Vietnam in Cyanotypes is a collection of some of my favourite photos of Vietnam and its people. They come from almost a decade of exploring Vietnam on assignment, as a traveller and as a resident of this beautiful country. I chose to use a 19th-century cyanotype printing technique.
At first, I used cyanotype mainly as an experiment but quickly it re-established an analogue and handcrafting aspect in my photography process that I had back in school and that I had put aside when I took digital photography. The cyanotype process was one of the first non-silver technologies used to create photographic images that originated in 1842 after Sir John Herschel discovered the procedure.
The typical procedure is to create the sensitizer with a mix of equal part green ferric ammonium solution and potassium ferricyanide solution. Despite the chemical sounding names, these products are not dangerous. Once the sensitizer is ready you can apply the solution onto paper, or fabric (or any porous surface really). Let it dry completely in the dark. The cyanotype process is a negative photo process, black will become white and white/transparency will be blue. You can choose an object (like a Rayogram), a flower, a drawing on transparent paper or a photo negative (anything you want really).
I use two large pieces of glass to make sure the paper stays flat. Finally, you put the sensitized paper under sunlight or UV light and let it be exposed until the yellow/green colour turns into grey/bronze.
Exposure time varies depending on the light source. Once exposed, rinse the paper under running water until clear, now your cyanotype is blue. Let it dry. Sir John Herschel did not intend to use cyanotype for photography, but as a copying technique. The cyanotype processes were widely used to create copies of technical and architectural plans and were called blueprints.
These photos, in their monochrome format, are, in a way, my blueprints of Vietnam and its people. The print simplicity and yet depth give a dreamy aspect to the photos. They add a layer of poetry, one that extends beyond the content within the frame. It abstracts the photos from their mundane context and gathers them under a poetic evocation of my memories.
Photography to me means telling visual stories of humanity and love.
When I frame the image, I try to create an imperfect – romantic photograph.
A camera is a moment keeper.
Vuong Nguyen is my name and Saigon is my hometown. I am a photographer, an artist and a self-taught filmmaker; recently I’m studying Visual Arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia.
Regarding photography, I’ve taken photographs for more than 5 years, the very first chance for me to use a camera is when I went out on a road trip to Long Hai in Ba Ria provide with my friend, she lent me her camera, and it was a Canon 60D, we took many photos of the sunrise and the ocean.
I still remember precisely the beauty of that moment, when I was gazing at the large yellow light that is slowly coming out from the horizon of the ocean, the sun of that time was like a massive fireball in my taken photos.
I still remember precisely the beauty of that moment, when I was gazing at the large yellow light that is slowly coming out from the horizon of the ocean, the sun of that time was like a massive fireball in my taken photos. Therefore, I was fell in love with photography from that day.
So, taking photo became my biggest hobby, I got for myself a Nikon D90 which is also my first camera; I spent much time just hanging out Saigon and some places to take pictures. Taking photographs means you can freeze special moments that happening around you. I would say photography is a ticket for you to become a time traveller whenever you have a look through all your pictures you have taken.
Since then I’m having for myself more than five cameras including digital and analogue ones. Now I’m using mostly is Nikon F5 and Nikon FM II which are amazing cameras. Lover of no one is the newest photographic series of mine; I used an analogue camera which was Nikon FM II with Rollei 35mm film to capture pictures of street life in Sydney. Also with photos in black and white, there is more contrast of deep feeling that I want to give the viewers.
Moreover, Lover of no one also is a recognition of a disconnected society. Even though Sydney is a most crowded city in the world, but somehow, I found the emptiness, loneliness of people in modern society. Each person is invisible to another, and there is no contact, not much engagement between people.
It was challenging when I decided to make the series, and there was two big obstacle that I faced. Firstly, my biggest question was how can I put strong human emotions into photographs? It was difficult to describe my feeling by photographing, so when I took a photo for the Lover of no one, I applied different compositions and techniques.
You can see some of the pictures are made by using long exposure photographic technique. Secondly, always be carefully adjust a camera because I was using Nikon FM II, not like a digital camera I could not see photos after taking it, so understanding of photography technique is essential.
When I have been studying deeper both practical and theoretical lessons in photography, I love photography more. The deeper understanding about photography, the fewer photos I take, I think due to my philosophy of photography has been changed. Therefore, I’m using analogue cameras instead of using digital ones.
Using film cameras help you to calm yourself and you must understand your camera before taking photos. Otherwise, the images from an analogue camera, for me, is more valuable, not only about the process of developing the negative but also about the narrative of each photo cause sometimes you have a roll of film that’s mean 23 or 36 times to take a photo.
So, you must have thought about the moment you should or should not photographing. Honestly, I was inspired a lot by the works of Fan Ho, Saul Leiter, Stephen Dupont and Sebastiao Salgado. They are all great photographer. Every time that I feel lost, need the motivation to create a new project, always look at their works as a simple way for me to recharge energy.
The next few years I think I could challenge myself in cinemaphotography. I could apply photography knowledge into making a film because I think a connection between photography and filmmaking is a very close gap.
If I have a chance to advise another one who wants to become a photographer, I would have two sentences to send out: – “Understand your camera and believe in your eyes”. – “Your first camera is for practising, but your last one is to tell stories.”
Photography to you means: A reflective process of observing, documenting, and creating the world around you.
When I frame the image: I position visual artefacts and anomalies crawling across TV screens in a rectangular box.
A camera is: A sometimes unnecessarily complicated device for drawing with light.
I watched the ghostly faces morph on the TV screen as I got electrocuted through the rabbit ears in my hand. The faces trespassed through me in one jolt. I had been moving the antenna back and forth and side to side like a kind of superstitious ritual. I took a picture of a distorted face on the screen just before I was shocked, an image my friend later described as a ‘horror-struck female pharaoh atomised in a digital matrix’. That was the last photo I took in the electrocution room. I was dazed for a while, counting my luck and pacing back and forth in a small Airbnb on Nguyễn Cư Trinh Street in Saigon.
I moved here in January from Perth, Western Australia. When I arrived I couldn’t help but gawk at the way that the streets’ electrical cables were wrapped around utility poles like seething masses of venomous vines. At night, a flickering red glow from a sea of motorbikes complimented the vines’ danger and allure. There was a similarly messy jumble of cords growing around the analogue TV where I was working. I thought maybe I’d created a bad omen. My girlfriend had warned me about it; the electricity in our room wasn’t grounded properly and we’d both been zapped a few times through our laptops. I only got electrocuted once before I moved out of the Airbnb.
I took about 50 pictures before it happened and then I narrowed them down to a smaller series named Ghost. As a photographer, I explore serendipity as a generative device and embrace the technical instability of broadcast technologies. I use TVs from various eras, different antennas, a digital camera, and a good dose of superstition and a chance to make my pictures.
I see this process as a kind of ‘photographic archaeology’ whereby I’m trying to unearth something psychological within a fractured and distorted video landscape. I don’t always know what I’m trying to achieve, so for me, the process informs the result and it comes down to experimentation and inquiry.
I took a picture of a distorted face on the screen just before I was shocked, an image my friend later described as a ‘horror-struck female pharaoh atomised in a digital matrix’.
To create Ghost, I transformed video footage from free-to-air Vietnamese television channels into a photographic sequence. I tuned into public TV stations and manipulated and distorted the video broadcast by moving around an antenna in one hand as I took pictures with the other. I deliberately introduced a lot of video transmission errors and took pictures up close to different parts of the footage as it was morphing and undergoing a process of disintegration in real time.
In a way, I am ‘scrambling’ video and then working from that to create new pictures. When I’m up close to the screen, faces will appear ghostly and distorted through the camera and are completely unrecognisable from the originally intended broadcast.
Each TV has its own idiosyncrasies: modern, high-definition technology combined with digital stations will produce a strong ‘macroblocking’ effect, which is a kind of transmission error where there’s a discontinuity between the blocks of pixels in decoded video frames. The video breaks apart into bars and squares and everything becomes rearranged and distorted. Severe broadcast transmission errors on modern TVs will also feature strong pixilation, and the transitions between each error will be very unpredictable and sudden.
When a video signal is interfered with or interrupted on older analogue TVs, the visual anomalies will be different, more soft and ghostly. The video breaks up and disintegrates in a different way as well. For example, everything appears ‘grainy’ or film-like due to the inherent lack of definition.
When I shot Ghost, etched lines and scratches would appear in the photographs and comet-like artefacts trailed across the footage, unlike experiments I did with newer TVs.
For a while now I’ve found video codec errors visually interesting. So with Ghost, there are a lot of signal interference anomalies, aliasing and tracking errors, and other visual artefacts that manifest unpredictably during my creative process. There’s a lot of randomness, disintegration, and transmutation in these works. I can never go back and take the picture again as it’s an organic process where I’m actually photographing the video footage on the TV as it’s mutating.
I see value in running scripts and altering the code in post-production to create glitch art but I prefer this organic approach because of how physical, ephemeral and unrepeatable it is. Quite often technical errors in video and photography are dismissed as undesirable, whereas I try to embrace technical errors and visual anomalies as a way to create new things.
I can’t say I ‘fell in love’ with photography, I just fell into it. Growing up in rural Western Australia, my mum had an interest in photography and there were always cameras lying around the house. This was a time before everyone had a camera in their pocket, so to me it seemed cool and interesting. It’s a common situation I think – a lot of the time you become interested in what your parents are into and you make use of what you have access to.
Photography was a way for my mum to document our family holidays along the southern coast of WA, and to take pictures of my sisters and me as we were growing up. Cool bikes, toothy toddler grins, and beloved pet cats frozen in time on tacky checkered lino floors.
As a young boy, my first camera was probably one of those Kodak single-use film cameras that you could buy from supermarkets. Those cameras had charm in that they were an irresistibly bright yellow colour and they came in a similarly garish box; they almost leapt off the shelf and were strategically placed near checkouts to encourage impulse buying. They were kind of like the camera equivalent of a Kinder Surprise or a Chomp bar. I liked how faux-mechanical they were, with their shitty plastic cogs and whirring sounds.
Once I got hooked I started to care more about my pictures and considered saving my pocket money for a more reliable camera. I knew my pictures weren’t that great even though no one told me outright. But I kept taking them. More often than not, the pictures went to the ‘could be better’ shame pile. I still feel the same way now. I’m never really happy with my photos.
In high school, my English teacher gave me a book of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, and I remember thinking it was an astonishing cross-section of everything incredible and awful about humanity. These images left a deep impression on me so my interest in photography developed further. There is mystery, humour, triumph, love, suffering, irony, beauty, terror, chance, error, and banality in pictures.
A picture can make you cry or laugh or groan or sigh or gasp or say nothing. Or it can make you reflect upon your life or scare you or annoy you or confuse you or bore the shit out of you or make you wish you were exempt from humanity. You can take a picture of something from countless angles and dance around a street scene like a crazed firewalker or stroll down a train carriage with a selfie stick as you crane your neck out like a flamingo. Or you can take a picture of your feet at the end of your bed and hashtag the shit out of it before you eat breakfast.
Photography can be anything you want it to be. I find it interesting to try to make sense of the world through a viewfinder, deciding what’s important to show and what isn’t. And how that changes over time. And how you view the world differently as you get older and presumably wiser. I’ve had an on and off relationship with photography for the last five years. I went through clichéd bouts of frustration and inspiration, and put my camera down for a short while.
A photographer once told me that photography is supposed to be a miserable lonely endeavour, and will eventually kill you. In 2016, I studied photography at university and went on what I can only describe as a photojournalism ‘boot camp’ in China, which was really challenging and inspiring and gave me some new insights as well as some amazing stories and memories.
I can’t say it killed me but there were some hairy moments walking around late in Shanghai, such as getting chased by an angry and unwilling photographic subject. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the experimental and bizarre side of art photography. I’m inspired by the creativity of the Surrealists and Dadaists, and by contemporary photographers like Asger Carlsen and Roger Ballen, who are exploring the fringes of their psyches and pushing the medium to its limits by toying with photographic conventions, and by doing strange and wonderful things with photography, sculpture and drawing.
I enjoy the absurdity and transgression of their photographic worlds. It’s often tongue-in-cheek, like you’re looking at a picture and thinking, ‘what the fuck is going on’ and you can’t help but laugh.
But it’s never one-dimensional because you’re looking at all the layers in an image for a long time, and it bounces around in your mind for weeks. While it’s a far stretch from the documentary photography that initially inspired me, experimental contemporary photography has encouraged me to explore my own ideas and creative processes and to value the medium more greatly as a way of expressing abstract and artistic ideas.
At the moment I’m working towards a solo exhibition and I have a few photography projects in the works. I’m also open to collaborations with other artists, so feel free to get in touch via my website.
I seldom experience that simple, laid back life that most people see when they travel to Vietnam. It’s all portrayed in my work — high contrast lighting, hectic, imperfect, but full of stories. Photography to you means: A tool like other art tools to help capture and express the stories as well as the human conditions.
When I frame the image: I think first of what story I want to tell. What is the message here?
A camera is: Just a box that records images, nothing more than an expensive tool.
I’m Francis, but my real Vietnamese name is Van Anh; Francis is a name I gave to myself as a persona to try to be an artist. Although my work is in photography, I try to include art influences into it. I don’t make snapshot images, but images made with stories and ideas behind them. Many of my images don’t look realistic, some, more like paintings.
That’s the world I want to create, more colourful, more exciting, somewhat like an escape from reality. I was born and raised in Saigon, even my parents were, so I’m very much a city person. I seldom experience that simple, laid back life that most people see when they travel to Vietnam. It’s all portrayed in my work — high contrast lighting, hectic, imperfect, but full of stories.
I love taking portraits and editorial fashion photos, there’s so much freedom in it to explore. I translate how you see the world in pictures. I also get to meet and work with a lot of people, get to know their lives. With portraits, few people have ever had their portraits taken. Their reaction, when I show them how I perceive them, is always interesting. It’s not a walk in the park, but giving people the experience of their portraits taken is always a thing I’d want to do.
My first camera was a Canon 500D with a kit lens. I saved up a few months to get it, and it was also my first big investment. Then, I started taking photos of my friends. Most of them happened to be musicians, then it kind of clicked and I moved forward from there. How I view people and things have always been much different from others. I’ve always wanted to experiment with ideas, meet interesting people. But, I can’t draw. I don’t know how to paint and didn’t go to a proper art school like the rich kids.
Photography was the fastest and most accessible way I could use to translate my ideas into art. This happens to be the medium that I got involved with in my life, and it’s been a hell of a journey. Most of all I love the process of a photo shoot. The people I meet, the things everyone comes up with by working together. I used to tell people “I feel most alive when I’m on set, the rest of the time I’m just inside my head”. Because photoshoots are where my ideas get the main playground. Where my ideas get to go out there to see the world, and that’s what I’m living for.
I seldom experience that simple, laid back life that most people see when they travel to Vietnam. It’s all portrayed in my work — high contrast lighting, hectic, imperfect, but full of stories.
Babes of Saigon (I’m still not very sure about the name), it’s still an ongoing project I’m trying to push. I’ve always wanted to document this “phenomenon”, a theme I want to explore further and keep taking pictures of. So, in my mind, it’s still an ongoing project and I want to share the process with others.
In Vietnamese culture, women don’t have to cover their faces or hair. Yet, they are always so concerned with how they look to a culture standard. Many of them would go to ridiculous lengths, no matter how silly they look, to keep their beauty ideas. For instance, cover all their skin from the sun to keep the porcelain white skin. You look at someone covered from head to toe with 10 different types of floral fabric, plus giant sunglasses. It is hard to even tell if it was a person underneath all that or not. But once they stop the bike, and they take all that hideous “aprons” out, there’s a beautiful girl underneath! It’s kind of like magic—the Vietnamese magic. Haha.
I am inspired by pretty much anything that’s different from the norm. Non-conforming while telling a story at the same time. By things that are provocative, surrealistic, but not superficial and empty. I love how you can distort and transform reality only with a little black box and some glasses. That’s what I love about photography.
Most of the time I’m inspired by movies and music, painterly photographs. I watch a lot of movies and always listening to music. My ultimate inspiration is the classic Blade Runner (1986). I also get inspired by David Lynch, Paolo Roversi, David Sims, Annie Leibovitz, Harley Weir, Julia Hetta and Nicolas Jaar. Female beauty especially draws a lot of my attention. There are so many different standards and stigma attached to it. That makes it an inexhaustible source for a lot of artists.
My current favourite photographer to draw inspiration from is Harley Weir. I’m fascinated by city lights at night, like around 1am to 4am it is a magical time. Everything seems so still, so dead—yet so vibrant and so alive. My main obstacle would be financing and finding a stable team to work within photoshoots. Because the like-minded people I work with come and go out of Vietnam all the time.
If you want the best team you gotta have the budget, but that’s not the case for personal projects like mine. I’m looking forward to collaborating with other photographers/artists alike. I want to do projects together, to develop Saigon’s art scene more and more.
My advice: focus on your work and what you want to do most. Don’t waste time comparing yourself with others in the same field. These images were shot for Word Vietnam magazine, the Fashion issue. We shot these right in front of the Word office, utilizing the classic Vietnamese alley.
Photography to you means: A process which allows one to extract elements from consensus reality and transform those elements in a variety of ways.
When I frame the image: When I frame an image I concentrate on what to remove from the frame and then how to arrange what remains.
A camera is: An image extracting device.
I was studying painting when, in 1967, I was drafted into Uncle Sam’s army and sent to Vietnam. Cameras were cheap at the PX in Nha Trang so I picked up a 35mm Petri 7 rangefinder camera. It wasn’t long before I was taking it everywhere and pointing it at everything.
When I returned to the US, I decided to switch my major from painting to photography. Initially, I studied photojournalism influenced by the work of W. Eugene Smith but moved to medium and large format black and white landscape work influenced first by Edward Weston and later by Paul Caponigro.
Eventually, I was exhibiting, had a dealer and was teaching advanced black and white printing and technical photography at the art school of the State University of New York, Purchase campus.
The title Echo Beach comes from the 1979 song of the same name by Martha and the Muffins with the chorus “far away in time” which seemed appropriate for this series.
In 1994 I decided to take a short sabbatical in Vietnam which turned out to be not so short as I am still here. The 2017 Echo Beach series was created in Vung Tau, Vietnam. It is the result of many experiments with the light, space, colours and object placement at Back Beach and how the photographic process could transform these picture elements. The prints are 70cmx46cm on bamboo fibre fine art paper, which works well to complete the watercolour feeling I wanted. (Many thanks to Danny Bach, master printer at VG labs in Saigon).
The title Echo Beach comes from the 1979 song of the same name by Martha and the Muffins with the chorus “far away in time” which seemed appropriate for this series. This quote from Ralph Gibson nicely connects with my view of photography: “I believe photographs are better than the photographer and the art is better than the artist. I’m not the music; I’m the radio through which the music plays. So I follow the work, I don’t lead the work. I go where the work sends me.”
My advice to artists is not to listen to any advice and just “follow the work.”