I am a Hanoi born photographer. I worked for Deloitte, studied e-commerce in Sweden and wandered about Paris. Now, I am running a professional wet darkroom in Saigon which I opened since April 2017.
Over times, I have had too many cameras to remember them all. My main camera these days is the Pentax 67 with Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 Plus film. I always loved Black & White (B/W) film. With my new and only darkroom in town, I specialise in B/W photography only, completely analogue. “Why?”, because of its look and feel. It is very different and to me, photography is all about emotion. B/W film does that best.
Film photography is magic; you turn time and light to prints that you can hold in your hand. I want to become the best printer in Vietnam. To offer international printing quality. Also, to improve as a photographer and put on more exhibitions. Practice makes perfect as they say.
I always loved Black & White (B/W) film. With my new and only darkroom
in town, I specialise in B/W photography only, completely analogue.
“Paris, a dream wanderer”, a project born in Paris, France. I made silver gelatin prints of the B/W negatives captured on the streets of Paris. Now that I have a fully functioning darkroom, I can print the best quality pictures. My youthful dream of Paris comes to light again. Paris is a city of love, young people in love, lovers’ dream.
Inspiration came from many sources. Such as the book “Paris mon amour”, works of Robert Doisneau, Jeanloup Sieff, Brassai to mention a few. I captured these images between 2006 and 2010. Finding the time to print my own personal work was my biggest challenge.
Photography is a way for me to travel back in time. To see history through the eyes of the photographer. Everyone has there own way to tell a story, and evoking emotions.
When I frame an image I try to have everything I want inside the frame and everything I don’t want out of the frame. It’s not that I don’t agree with cropping but why not skip that step if you frame your shot properly.
A camera is a way to freeze a moment in time, the good and the bad. It’s like having a superhero power. Freezing time would be my superhero power if I had one.
My name is Michael Groissl. I’ve was brought up in upstate New York. For the people that don’t know, upstate New York is not New York City. As a child I was always outdoors doing anything from hiking, climbing trees, swimming, etc.
My first camera I had was a Polaroid IZone. It was a green instant film camera. I thought this was the coolest thing I could have gotten for Christmas that year. Years later I saw my friends taking 35mm film black and white photos and developing photos in the darkroom.
Photography is a medium that I’ve fallen in love with it. I feel that I can really express myself through this medium.
I was fascinated with the pictures they were taking and knew this was something I want to get into. So I bought my first Pentax film camera and a few rolls of film. I took a few classes to learn how to develop film and photos. I loved every about it from the smell of the darkroom to the creative and technical process of taking a photo. This was my first real introduction to photography.
My mother asked me, “What I wanted to do when I was older?” I told her, “ I wanted to move far away from the United States and live in another country.” It was always a dream of mine to experience how other people live in this world. I would always see beautiful pictures of places far away and knew I would see these places one day.
Later on, I joined the United States Navy. I was an (AD) Aviation Machinist Mate. This was my first opportunity to travel abroad. After finishing my training in the United States I was stationed with VFA-27 in Atsugi, Japan. I couldn’t have been happier to live in another country. Taking the opportunity to travel and take pictures around Japan and documenting the workplace on land and sea.
Photography is a medium that I’ve fallen in love with it. I feel that I can really express myself through this medium. I’ve tried other mediums but for me the best way to express myself through a creative way is photography.
The project I’m currently working on is a photo book called Daily Life in Northern Vietnam – The North. I choose this project because of my love towards this country and the people in it! The book is divided into three parts landscapes, cities, and people to show daily life in Northern Vietnam.
The photo book is a 30×30 soft cover, in both colour and black & white, printed on high-quality paper from Japan. The book is in both English and Vietnamese. Everything about Vietnam has inspired me to do this project.
From the beautiful, kind, and generous people, the stunning mountains and the hustle and bustle of the cities. The real question is there anything that Vietnam can’t inspire you to do?
The biggest obstacle I faced was myself. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to perfection in my photography. A lot of times a photo will be great but in my mind, it’s not good enough for my expectations.
I capture all of these photos over the last two years around the Northern regions of Vietnam. My friends from high school made me fall in love with photography. I would see all the hard work and creativity they would put into it and made me want to do the same.
Anthony Bourdain has inspired me to do a lot including my photography. I would see the passion he would put into his work and I wanted to do the same with photography.
In the next few years, I hope to see myself still travelling the world and documenting different cultures, landscapes and people through my lens. I have also started to pick up a new hobby in filming so I would like to see this myself completing more projects in filming too.
My advice I would give other artist is keep following your passion. Someone will appreciate the beauty of your creative work. The hardest part of this assignment was cutting the book down to 200 pages.
There are still so many pictures I would have liked to include. On the other hand, this gives me a good excuse to start another project with the pictures. I would like to start a project more local next about the beautiful city of Hanoi but I’ll take one project at a time for now.
Photography to you means: Photography is my only means of communication, to others and to myself.
When I frame the image: It is the same as when I open my eyes.
A camera is: The most honest being, it has never failed me.
My name is Hagan Nguyen and I am an emerging fine artist specialising in photography. I am currently working between Vietnam and Australia. In 2o16 I moved to Melbourne to attend a Bachelor degree in Creative Arts.
During the year I was living here, I was influenced by the diversity of the multicultural city which is also an inspirational material to develop my works. My practice mainly focuses on alternative photography such as Xerox Art, Photogram and Overpainted Photography.
Previously, I chose Film and Television as my major with a dream to become a director. If moving images can tell a story with different elements i.e time and space expansion, vision and sound, then how photography with just only one still image can truthfully express itself. That is when I was totally awakened by the power of visual language.
My very first camera was a Pentax 35mm camera which also taught me a lesson that artwork always comes from the vision of the artist.
People are always surprised at how #patient I am even though I do not seem so.
I am and will always be #independent for my whole life.
I am #pessimistic, #introvert and fortunately very #curious.
My latest work is a research-based practice of overpainted photography which employs photography to incorporate and explore the visual effects of painting. The body of the work is inspired by the photographic method in the 19th century called overpainted photography.
In times past, hand-coloured photography was used to create a sense of realism for monochrome images, yet in the context of contemporary art, the act of adding more colours to realistic photographs would make them more abstract. The combination of these mediums blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy, importance and insignificant as well as photography and painting. This suggests the feeling of “lost in transition” and requires audiences to understand the work in a different way.
If a musician can write a song to talk about his love story and an author can write down his thoughts on a piece of paper, my feelings can only be listened to through visual artwork. With the urge to share what I have experienced, I used layers and colours to describe the infinite sadness of sunset in Glenelg or the healing warmth of autumn in Kurrangat Park. This is a way for me to be honest with myself.
The research-based practice of “Overpainted Photography” was first started in my third year of university. I have been assigned an experiment project in which I had to develop a final work without any expectation for the outcome. My work back then was a series of monochrome photographs of the suburban landscape in Melbourne city centre added with an acrylic-painted-plastic layer.
Inspired by the previous work, I once again applied this method with an aim to release my feeling and my emotion instead. It has never been easy to find the right paint for the project. Whilst I applied acrylic paint directly on a plastic layer before, I have tried digital painting for the current work which would give me more confidence and self-control. The original photographs were all taken around Australia when I travelled across this country. I was so grateful to have an opportunity to be in front of these landscapes within my short 5-year living there.
The work entitled “Overpainted Photography” is an #experimental project. It might be described as #colourful or even #chaotic but I also find #peace and #harmony while looking into it.
I fell in love with photography because of its limitless ability as well as its limit.
Photography has always been trying to find its position in the context of contemporary art which should be explored in order to go beyond the boundary. One of the artists that has done an amazing job to bring photography into a next level is Michelle Le Belhomme.
By constructing 2D photographs in a visual arrangement to how it would appear in reality, Le Belhomme has brought photography beyond its limit to create artistic expression.
I will always see myself keep experimenting in the future. It would be fortunate of mine if I still can dedicate all of the time I have left to study art and create art.
Self-recognition is always important to everyone, especially for artists because we have to recognise ourselves before we can reveal ourselves to others. By being aware of ourselves, artists can have a direct dialogue between themselves and their artworks, and also come to learn which role do their works come to play in the context of contemporary art.
Writing artist statements has always been my hardest assignment. As a person who is never so great at writing, I use visual language instead. Yet, making art and putting those into words are equally important; that an artist statement should be recognised as a separate piece of art itself.
More artworks on display in Issue No.5 (Coming soon)
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 means to me: Documenting time and space
When I frame the image: I’m looking for that brief instance where everything comes together.
A camera is:A memory box.
My name is Kelly Padgett, I currently live in Apex, North Carolina which is a suburb of Raleigh. I lived in Vietnam for approximately four years, and I still have close ties to the country. I believe my first camera would have been a disposable camera, the type that requires you to send the entire camera in for development. Later I started using my parents Canon Photura, which is an automatic point and shoot style camera.
Growing up I had to use or play with whatever I could get my hands on. Other cameras I experimented with were things like the Canon AE-1 and the Nikon N65. The first digital camera I ever owned was a Fuji Finepix compact camera. I don’t think photography was ever a conscious choice, it’s always been something I’ve been drawn to. It has to be the magic of capturing a moment in time and being able to hold that moment in my hands.
It has to be the magic of capturing a moment in time and being able to hold that moment in my hands.
Story of Life, Câu Chuyện Cuộc Sống, is the title of my ongoing project. Most everything we see of Vietnam feels like a well-polished travel brochure, I want people to see a personal side of both the country and its people, that there’s a much deeper and complex side to both. I wanted to create something a bit different than others, by showing the intimate side of life in Vietnam.
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.
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 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.”