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.
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 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.
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.”