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Portraits of Vietnam

The pictures you’re about to see are really pretty. Some are black and white. Others are in colour. All the pictures are linked to Vietnam, but you’d be hard-pressed to guess that by looking at them.


When Word photo editor Kyle Phanroy asked some of Vietnam’s most talented photographers to contribute their work for this issue, he had little idea what to expect. Photography is an artful science, like alchemy. It’s difficult to predict exactly what will ‘work’. When it does, though, the results can be spectacular.

 

“Every good photographer has a style,” says Kyle. “A lot of people over here are really into portraits. But there are photographers who do abstract stuff, people who are minimalists.” In illustrating the spirit of Vietnam with photos, we had a difficult task. Capturing the essence of a single moment is hard enough — how do you define an entire country?

 

Photography is a remarkably open field. In many ways experience is irrelevant — you can take pictures for 50 years and still be a lousy photographer. And the most technologically advanced camera in the world is no match for an iPhone if it’s buried in your pocket when the parade rolls by.

 

The photographers featured in this issue aren’t necessarily the most famous in Vietnam (though some of them are) or the longest tenured (though some have been shooting for decades). However, they’ve demonstrated an ability to record the idiosyncrasies of this land — to portray, in photographic form, the moments that make life here unique. They accomplish the feat in different ways, but viewed together they present an interesting composite image of modern life in Vietnam.

 

Photography may be the most accessible of the arts — anyone can look at a picture and instantly feel something. You don’t need a subtle appreciation of shutter speeds and ISOs to know a great photo when you see it. You feel a visceral reaction — your chest swells up, your fingers clench, you squint for a closer look. You notice a vivid colour, a peculiar shadow, an indefinable melancholy that seems to crawl up your fingers from the page. And you say the same words everyone says:

 

Whoa. Cool.

 


 

Lee Starnes

(Photo above)

American

8 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5D Mark II, 24-70, 2.8L

 

 

What’s happening in this photo?

An older man in the town of Tam Coc, Northern Vietnam. 2014.

 

Where is one place you dream to photograph?

Ha, wow... I guess I’m supposed to have this exotic locale, but honestly, I’d love to sit down with Tom Waits in a smoke-filled bar and see how it unfolds.

 

What do you do when things just don’t work?

Read more, ask more questions, take more risks... it’s the only way to push yourself.

 


 

 

Nicolas Cornet

French

27 years pro experience

Shot with a Mamiya 7 with 80mm lens, Fuji Provia 120 film

 

What’s happening in this photo?

Quang Ninh Province. Halong Bay. People of Cua Van floating village. Jellyfish hunting.

 

Where do you put your lens cap when shooting?

I leave the lens cap in the bag. Out of the bag, the camera should always be able to shoot, at any time.

 

Where is one place you dream to photograph?

‘Mother India.’ [It’s] a place I always want to go back to make one more picture before she (and I) disappear.

 


 

 

Alisher Sharip

Uzbekistan / Russia / US / Belarus

2 years pro experience, plus related experience as a researcher (for a PhD project on spirit possession in Vietnam), as a TV reporter and as a journalist

Shot with a Canon 6D and 50mm glass

 

What’s happening in this photo?

An interplay between details on the wicker mat and ghosty silhouettes under the black hole on the wall, from where they come and where they disappear.

 

Someone isn’t smiling, and you want to shoot them smiling — how?

I’d say: Please, don’t smile!

 


 

 

Quinn Ryan Mattingly

American

8 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5D II and 35 1.4L lens

 

What’s happening in this photo?

A man and his chicken in portrait on a ferry crossing somewhere in the Mekong.

 

Describe Vietnam in one sentence:

Hot, loud, dirty and cheap, usually in the best possible way.

 


 

 

TANG TANG

Vietnamese

5 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon

 

What’s happening in this photo?

The woman is so beautiful in the ao dai.

 

As a photographer, what questions do non-photogs ask you that drive you crazy?

Why the model’s face is dark.

 


 

 

Derek Miyamoto

American

3 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5DII, 24-70 at 24mm

 

What’s happening in this photo?

Vietnamese model Ngan Lieng stops Saigon traffic between Parkson and Vincom in District 1.

 

Most memorable photo shoot?

Running around Harajuku, Tokyo, shooting street fashion portraits on a stopover from SGN to LAX. People really go for it with their clothing style in Harajuku, and it was exciting to be surrounded by people with such visions.

 

I only had about an hour to shoot, so I frantically ran around engaging people in broken, Google-translated Japanese to ask if I could take their picture. Some weren’t into the idea of having a stranger take their picture, but a lot of people were caught off-guardby the sight of my two-year-old son riding on top of my luggage.

 


 

 

Brian Vu

Vietnamese

8 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon Eos M

 

What’s happening in this photo?

Rainbow colours contrasted by ambiguity and harsh lines create for an unpredictable image.

 

What type of music do you like to listen to while shooting?

It varies from dance music or something more patient and slow, depending on the day and what I’m shooting. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Foxes in Fiction.

 

Most memorable photo shoot?

It’s difficult to choose. One of my favourite photo shoots was shooting my best friend and collaborator Lindsay in a pool covered in flowers and paint colour.

 


 

 

Mads Monsen

Norwegian

25+ years pro experience

Shot with a Nikon

 

What’s happening in this photo?

A peaceful view.

 

Most memorable photo shoot?

Shooting oil rigs for Petro Vietnam off the coast of Vung Tau. Did three rigs in one day. We were lucky to get clearance for takeoff due to the strong wind. A bit stronger and the shoot would be delayed.

 

Where is one place you dream to photograph?

Antarctica

 


 

 

Tim Gerard Barker

Australian

9 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM

(exposure: 1/320th at f/2.8, ISO200)

 

What’s happening in this photo?

A woman shades herself with an umbrella while working in the rice fields of Yen Minh, Ha Giang.

 

What’s your go-to shooting stance?

Depends on the situation, I’m a perfectionist for dynamic compositional elements and will get wherever I need to get to to make the composition work at it’s best. Sometimes this means I’m lying on the ground, sometimes I’m climbing up a tree. I have a shaky hand so I always make sure the camera is supported by as many body parts as possible to reduce any shake.

 

Where is one place you dream to photograph?

I’d love to visit Meghalaya in far east India and photograph the living tree root bridges made famous by Timothy Allen’s images from the Human Planet series. I met Timothy a few years ago and his stories of the place have stayed inside my head since.

 


 

 

Dave Perkes

British

35 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5D Mk2, 70-200 at F4 IS

 

What’s happening in this photo?

This shot is of a Vietnamese ding-dong deal in Hoi An Market.

 

Describe Vietnam in one sentence:

Vietnam is a microcosm of the sensual experiences of Asia, [all] in one country.

 

Where is one place you dream to photograph?

I have been living, shooting and bringing photographers on tours to Cambodia; for over a decade. I have been living a dream and can think of nowhere else on this planet I’d want to be.

 


 

 

Pieter Janssen

Dutch

12 years pro experience

Shot with Canon 10D, 1/13 seconds, F4.5, ISO 800

 

What’s happening in this photo?

These concrete binoculars represent constant observance and eternal construction. Despite the pursuit of progress, old values — the conical hat — will not disappear.

 

What do you do when things just don’t work?

I try different approaches and sometimes that means drastic measures. Stepping out of my comfort zone is one of them. When I did a photo tour a few years ago we got caught in a heavy downpour. Having about eight clients who were about to get soaked I had to do something quickly. So I entered someone’s house, something I would never have done before. Both the family and us photographers had a great time when photographing them.
Luckily this is something you can do in Vietnam. In any western country I would have been shot.

 


 

 

Glen Riley

Canadian

20+ years experience

Shot with a Nikon

 

What’s happening in this photo?

A cyclo driver at rest in a soon-to-be-torn-down apartment block in Saigon

 

Describe Vietnam in one sentence

A photographer’s paradise that never ceases to amaze me.

 

What do you do when things just don’t work?

Keep trying until it does. That's the beauty of shooting digital.

 

What lens do you keep on your primary camera body?

Nikon 24mm 2.8

 


 

Tri Huu Luu

Vietnamese

3 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5D with 24-105mm lens

 

What’s happening in this photo?
Tea pickers are picking tea leaves in Thai Nguyen Province.

 

As a photographer, what questions do non-photogs ask you that drive you crazy?

What camera are you using?

 

What’s your go-to shooting stance?

Up-close, respectful and no expectations.

 


 

 

Kelly Padgett

American

15 to 20 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5DMKIII, 35mm, F/1.4

 

What’s happening in this photo?

Finding hope and light in the midst of the darkness and chaos of life.

 

What’s your approach?

Be kind, be friendly and be respectful to the people and things around you. If shooting a person, spend a little time with them, get to know them.

 


 

 

Le Nguyen Duy Phuong

Vietnamese

9 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5D Mark II

 

What’s happening in this photo?

This photo is [part of] the ongoing project Holding Water.

 

Most memorable photo shoot?

It happened in the lake where I was taking a photo of children. They sang for me.

 


 

 

Wei Shen Tan

Malaysian

5 years pro experience

Shot with a Nikon FM2

 

What’s happening in this photo?

Portrait of a man by the lake in Mui Ne. Taken during my first trip to Vietnam circa 2011 to 2012.

 

Describe Vietnam in one sentence:

It's f****** awesome.

 


 

 

Viet Ha Tran

Vietnamese

2 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon EOS 600D

 

What’s happening in this photo?

“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows.” — Nisargadatta Maharaj

 

Where is one place you dream to photograph?

An abandoned castle in Poland or Czech Republic.

 

Most memorable photo shoot?

The shooting I did for Vogue Italia in April 2014. It was a very huge shoot with 20 people and about 24 costumes, I was the art director and photographer. It was a tough shoot of 12 hours and I didn’t have time to sit down to eat or drink.

 


 

 

Vu Minh Quan

Vietnamese

10 years pro experience

Shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, lens 16-35 2.8 L mk2, 70-200 2.8 non-IS, fix 100 2.8 L Macro

 

What’s happening in this photo?

Cute child. This picture was taken in the northern mountains of Vietnam — Ha Giang Province.

 

Describe Vietnam in one sentence:

A dreamland for all photographers.

 

 

More in this category: « The Salt Fields

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