Category Urban

“Neon Hong Kong” – Project diary (3)

It may not have been properly envisioned until this year but my “Neon Hong Kong” project was begun way back in 2014. I was doing a Street Photography walk around Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui when I captured the image above (and others) which included neon signs.

Ming Court Hotel
Ming Court Hotel

I have always found the glow of neon to be appealing and this image inspired me to do a neon related project, although I didn’t know what form that should take. Over time I realised that several of the signs I had photographed were gone. Signs failed and were not repaired, or businesses updated to modern signage or else went out of business altogether and their neon signs disappeared. That was when I decided on a hybrid documentary/artistic project. I would track down and record as many of the remaining signs as possible and then choose some of the once neon filled streets and convert them so that they are once again awash with neon. The project is a fond farewell for the fast disappearing signs. Like the gods, their power is fading and their light going out from the world. But, before they disappear for good, I will document as many as I can so that we can at least remember them.

To date I have visited over 170 locations and taken over 1100 location and test photos. I have about another 40-50 locations still to visit/document and then I need to choose which signs/locations to use for the artistic element of the project. I am hopeful that with a concerted effort I can get a large proportion of this work done for January-February 2020 in order to be able to create a first draft of the full project. 

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.

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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/

My first photograph

I guess if I am going to write something about learning photography I should start by talking about my first photograph. By that I don’t mean the first photograph I ever took – I mean the first photo I took which interested me, beyond being just a simple snapshot. For several years I took photographs without a camera. I was constantly stopping and thinking “that would make a great image” but I didn’t actually buy a camera. I did this, at least in part, because I remembered my father owning, and never using, a rather nice Pentax film camera. I didn’t want to invest in a nice camera and then never use it, so I just carried on taking mental images.

street scene. Mong Kok at night.
Night scene. Mong Kok.

Then one day I took a snap shot with my Blackberry mobile phone, which actually interested me as a photograph. I was walking through Mongkok, Hong Kong on a Saturday evening and paused to grab this photo looking down Sai Yeung Choi Street. It was the light, colour and busy crowd that first attracted me to the scene but, once I had taken it,  the actual image had more to it. In addition to colour and light it also has mystery and movement. What are the young couple on the left of the shot looking at. Are they simply waiting for a break in the traffic or are they looking at something happening further down the street? What about the (what appears to be) family group on right of shot. What are they discussing and where are they going? There is also lots of movement in the image. People in the background are on the move; in couples and on their own. What about the man in the centre of the shot – where is he going hurrying down the street so that he is just a blur? On a technical level the image quality isn’t great but the image itself is well composed. The frame is filled with action and there is very little empty space. At ground level you have people everywhere and above them the buildings and neon signs. In addition the image draws your eye inwards because the yellow street markings and the buildings on either side act as leading lines, guiding you further into the image. I have to admit that the composition of the image is mostly down to blind luck. I did try to centre the image so that I was looking directly down the middle of the street. I also raised the camera angle a little so that I didn’t get too much empty road  (I now know just how important it is to avoid empty/dead space in the foreground of images). But, as for the content, that is all luck. I didn’t see the man who was about to walk past, I didn’t see the taxi about to stick its nose into shot and I hadn’t noticed the people on the far right of the frame who, I feel, counter balance the young couple on the far left. I didn’t immediately jump into photography after taking this image. I kept coming back to it and looking at it, without really understanding why. Time to pinch my girlfriend’s point and shoot and start learning…..

Note: The above image was taken several years ago. This post has been back dated slightly to maintain a coherent time-line for posts that discuss images/events which pre-date this blog.