I’ve been at a real loss for words since I returned to Hanoi at the end of last week. Not sure what it is. The weather. Not the weather. Whatever it is it’s still here, but I wanted to share some photographs from a trip to the countryside today. No grand insights into local life. Just pictures and a few rambling sentences that need to end here.
I’ve known Ong Duoc for nearly two years now, since I started working on my Urban Farmers in Hanoi project, which deals with farming families and rapid over-development in the capital. I knew some aspects of his life, but before yesterday, when I got to sit down with him and a writer, I had no idea of the extents of it. He’s an extremely fascinating individual. And I only caught brief glimpses of the conversation.
He fought at Khe Sanh during the American War and was left behind, thought dead with the rest of his battalion. He lived for six months in the wild, drinking water from streams and hunting his own food until he found his way out of the wilds. He came to Hanoi. His family was worshiping him at an altar–a common practice to honor the dead in Vietnam. But even thereafter, he couldn’t officially prove who he was, as he had no papers and no identification. So he remained deceased. He lived on the streets of the capital for 18 years. In 1990 he built a houseboat with his wife and first son on the small farming island beneath Long Bien Bridge, where he has lived since.
The pictures above capture what is probably an insignificant amount of his character. I’d like to hear a palm reader’s interpretation of his life, past, present and future. I know the upturned palms portrait is quite an overdone one, but sometimes a cliche or two can be important to a story. We’ll see if it lasts.
After meeting the other day with some fellow photographers here in Hanoi, I was forced to start rethinking the larger narrative behind an urban farming story I’ve been working on. With this in mind, I headed out beneath Long Bien Bridge a few days ago to make some more pictures, using our collective dialogue as a jumping off point.
These are by no means the answers to any of the questions that were raised that day, nor are they solutions to the many problems with the story. They’re just images from a fun day of walking around, taking photographs. More visual therapy than anything else. Sketches for things that I hope to see next time. The story for now is a bit elusive and cold. It needs to get more intimate. Inside houses. Portraits. Families. Effects. Etcetera.
I’ll be leaving for Singapore in the morning to celebrate the upcoming Year of the Tiger in style. Or whatever passes for style for me. It’s mostly a vacation, but I’ll be shooting some of the Lunar New Year build-up and festivities, as well as overseeing some printing for an upcoming group show at the end of this month at the Bui Gallery in Hanoi. More information on that upon my return.
Above is a Polaroid from a recent jaunt down to Long Bien Bridge. I met a group of vegetarian filmmakers down near the banks of the river while I was walking around. I took one shot of two friends and gave it to them, and then asked if I could take one picture for myself. Thus.
I had a few minutes to spare before a shoot yesterday evening, so I took a short drive on some side roads near the Red River. It didn’t take long until I came across fields upon fields of the kinds of trees that are sold all over the streets of the capital during Tet, or the Lunar New Year. I wish I knew their names. They have long thin branches that sprout upwards with small pink red crepe blossoms. A girl working in one of the fields told me that it was best for them to have a lot of buds but not many sprouts. I guess it’s luckiest if they produce their flowers once they’re brought home.