Category Travel

Streets of Hanoi

The Centre Of Attention, Hanoi, Vietnam. 2018.
The Centre Of Attention, Hanoi, Vietnam. 2018.

I recently returned from my second visit to Vietnam – my first to include Hanoi, and I would rate it as one of my favourite cities for Street Photography. This is in large part due to the crowded nature of the city creating an environment that is ideal for social interactions of various types. The city (much like Ho Chi Min City) is famous for the chaotic mass of scooters that fill its streets. At least chaotic was the impression I got when I first arrived. On closer inspection however, it became clear that the chaos had an inner order to it, like the flocking of birds or the shoaling behaviour of fish.What appears to be a crazy and chaotic mass is actually a huge group of individuals all being careful not to collide with each other. Having recently witnessed a Hong Kong taxi driver speed-up because a pedestrian had the audacity to cross the road in front of them, I would certainly say that Hanoi drivers are far better/safer than those in Hong Kong. They seem to work to two simple rules: #1. Don’t hit what’s in front of you (however badly they behave), and: #2. The sooner I let this person pass me the sooner they are out of my life and not bothering me.

My First Driving Lesson
My First Driving Lesson

Attempting to cross the road, which at first appears to be a exercise in stupidity, turns out to far easier than in many other cities. The sheer density of traffic makes speeding next to impossible and rule #1 above means that scooters and cars will literally go out of their way to avoid hitting you. All you need to do is step forward into any gap in the traffic and then keep moving forward at a uniform pace. The one thing you mustn’t do is step backwards as most vehicles attempting to avoid hitting you will do so by driving behind you.

For anyone wanting to do Photography in Hanoi you should definitely visit Hoan Kiem District (aka the Old Quarter) and Ba Dinh District (aka the French Quarter) where the government offices are located. A day of Street Photography goes very

Pho Soup Noodle And Beer
Pho Soup Noodle And Beer

well when fuelled by a morning cup of Vietnamese Coffee with a pastry, a Bánh mì (Baguette filled with pate, pickled carrots/diakon and often chicken or pork) for lunch and a bowl of Pho (soup noodles) with a cold beer for dinner.

The area around Hoan Kiem Lake is especially good at the weekend, when the area is converted into a giant pedestrian only zone. Locals take to the streets with youngsters dropping bags for goalposts to enjoy a game of street football, groups of music fans listening/dancing and parents giving their kids their first driving lessons (ride on electric toy cars).

Since returning to Hong Kong I have been experimenting with Bánh mì recipes. I have found that the key to a great Bánh mì is the chilli oil. Obviously a fresh baguette, crisp pickled carrot/daikon and a tasty pate are important but to be really great it needs just the right amount of chilli oil smeared across the sandwich. Just enough to give that chilli tingle up the spine. Hopefully this will mean that I can continue to enjoy a little bit of Vietnam at home while I wait for my next return visit.

 

Then and Now (3)

How, What, Why – for me these were the three stages of photographic learning. How to operate my camera, what to include in a photograph and why on earth am I photographing this thing?

Over the last few years it has been the Why that has consumed my attention and had by far the greatest impact on my photography. I am pretty sure that some people would say it has had a detrimental impact because, in the early years, I focused on the What and the What was beautiful things. The result was pretty pictures of beautiful things which, within a couple of years began to bore me. The reason was simple. They had no meaning for me; no Why. Just being beautiful wasn’t interesting to me. I wanted to take photographs that were more than just skin deep.

A good example would be the above photograph I took in Sri Lanka in 2012. A beautifully detailed old padlock on a chest at the Dutch Hospital in Colombo. I thought it was pretty then and I think it’s pretty now but beyond that it has no meaning for me and as such doesn’t. If I were to photograph it now I might do so as a commentary on the power that colonial nations exerted on their respective colonies but at the time it was just a picture and for me retains little interest after the initial appreciation of its surface beauty.

I was reminded of the Dutch Hospital padlock while out on a photo-walk back in January of this year. I came upon another padlock (though this one was

Portrait of people rushing by

certainly not as beautifully aged and wonderfully textured) attached to a set of shutters. I momentarily toyed with the idea of spending time photographic the padlock but very quickly dismissed that. Far more interesting for me was the idea of trying to capture (distorted) images of people rushing by reflected in the shutter; a rather abstract commentary on the speed of modern life. While I am sure many people will find the earlier image visually more appealing it is the latter image that I keep returning to, puzzling over the distorted shapes and trying to extract some little extra detail that I did not notice on a previous visit. In fact, while writing this I just realised that one of the figures reminds me of The Flash (the DC comic character) leaning forward at an extreme angle as he rushes along in a blur. Sometimes I think the greatest improvements in your photography come not from upgrading your camera’s firmware, but from upgrading your own firmware instead.

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New York City Spring

My review of New York City

It’s very clean (no litter) but at the same time grimy and run down. I like the style, it feels like a comfortable pair of old jeans.

Lots of mediocre, grab and go, food but equally loads of great restaurants. Some cheap, some expensive…. something to suit everyone.

there is an air of aggression with drivers constantly hooting and pedestrians with a “get out of my face” attitude…. but its all for show. As an Englishman I don’t really like anyone that I haven’t known for at least 20 years being friendly to me but I will make an exception for New Yorkers. It feels far more genuine than in LaLa or SF. Random strangers were coming up to me and asking/talking about Photography while I was shooting.

Theatres up the wazoo. Literally, you can’t move for tripping over theatres which is great for culture lovers.

 

3 Hours in Mong Kok

One of the best bits of photography advise I ever received was “buy an iPod”. This advise turned out to be especially useful last week when I spent 3 hours in Monk Kok.

Men relaxing and taking a smoke break in a Mong Kok alleyway

Mong Kok is a densely populated area of the Kowloon peninsula in Hong Kong. The area has everything from the glitzy jewellery shops and brand name stores of Nathan Road all the way down to the counterfeit handbag stalls of Tung Choi Street’s Ladies Market.  The crowded side-streets are lined with stalls, shops and hole in the wall restaurants; and all manner of interesting alleyways run between them. In short, Mong Kok is a wonderful place for Street Photography – 3 hours in Mong Kok is worth a week anywhere else.

The shops, the stalls and the thronging crowds are all a great source of interest but I particularly like the traditional Hong Kong butchers and fish shops. You will often see traditional Hong Kong butchers standing on the street stripped to the waist in Hong Kong’s oppressively humid summer heat, serving customers from the open front of their shop; while the fish mongers fillet fish with a practised small flick of the cleavers they wield.

If you are not careful the conditions for street photography can be challenging, especially in summer. Not only is it hot and very humid (98% RH) but you can also find yourself constantly moving between wide streets/bright sunlight to narrow streets, covered market stalls and dark alleyways which will require constant adjustments to your camera settings. The key of course is not to keep moving. Find a good location and wait, looking around constantly in order to see opportunities before they present themselves. In other words, wait for the picture to come to you – which is where the iPod comes in. Yes, I realise they have now been discontinued but the advise was given to me back in 2011. Technological redundancy aside, the point was that patience is as important in street photography as in any other genre. Instead of walking around, stumbling on an image and then trying to grab a shot. Find yourself a good location, turn on some music and wait for images to present themselves. Keep looking for interesting people before they are right in front of you, see where they are heading, re-position if necessary and wait for something interesting to happen, that way you will be ready to press the shutter when the opportunity materialises.

If you would like to see more of my Street Photography check out my Projects page https://danmarchant.com/projects/ or look me up on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dan_marchant/

Under the Dome

The dome may protect against the hell outside, but that doesn’t mean you are safe….

Under the Dome is a mini-project that I have wanted to undertake for quite some time.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the necessary equipment as it took longer than anticipated to construct a time machine. However, once complete, I was able to use the machine to travel 200 years into the future to a time when we have poisoned the environment to the point it can no longer sustain human life for any except the few who live under the domes. But even if you are one of the lucky few, life is far from safe. Maybe you will be this year’s human sacrifice in a neo-pagan fertility ritual.

The horns are blown to symbolise the start of the harvest.

The horns sound to signal the beginning of of this years choosing. If you are one of those selected you can try to hide… but they will hunt you through the bushes and undergrowth and eventually they will find you. Your blood will feed the hungry plants that give life to the dome… a place of safety…. but at a cost.

Close up photo of a sculpture at the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK.
You can hide but eventually they will find you.

I realise that my (tongue in cheek) post apocalyptic view of the The Eden Project isn’t what most people experience when they visit. In fact in a world filled with war, pollution, poverty and inequality the Eden Project acts as a small beacon of hope that there are people who care about the planet (and their fellow man).

plant photo
If there is no water it will make do with blood….. Your blood.

The facility, in Cornwall, England, comprise a garden and a pair of biomes (bio domes) which house a Mediterranean garden and the worlds largest enclosed rainforest. For more info on the educational projects that the Eden Project undertake check out their websites at http://www.edenproject.com

Square is the new black – Instagram

Until very recently I had not given much thought to Instagram as I wasn’t particularly interested in mobile phone photography. That all changed recently when I decided it was time for a new challenge to take me outside my comfort zone. I decided that Instagram, with its square image format would be different enough from my usual work to provide that challenge. Being a lover of wide-screen images I have enjoyed going back and looking at existing images with a square eye. Instagram’s limitation of posting square 1:1 images has helped me take a fresh look at my older works. I am also enjoying the challenge of capturing interesting images with a mobile phone and have also decided that attempting to photograph everyday items in an interesting manner would also be interesting. To that end I have chosen as my first Instagram project “My Kitchen in Black and White” – a selection of shots of items found in my kitchen, hopefully viewed from an unusual angle. Of course they also have to fit with my current preference for Black and White images – so I guess “square is the new black and white” would be a better title for this post.

If you are on Instagram feel free to check out my work there https://www.instagram.com/dan_marchant/. I can’t promise it will be great work but I can at least promise it wont be all selfies.