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.
This is an image from last week walking beneath Long Bien Bridge along the island/sandbar/farmlands and talking with some of the farming families who live down there, in small houseboats on the banks of the Red River. I’ve been photographing on and off under the bridge for about a year now, and I’m trying to synthesize a lot of my ideas and directions into one more cohesive whole. Last week was more of a recon mission than anything else. Hopefully I’ll get down there again soon to work more on the project. I’d like to wrap it up neatly. Put a bow on it and move on. But I don’t think that ever really happens.
Two simple portraits of two people I met over the weekend while wandering around beneath Long Bien Bridge, in the early afternoon near the night market. It was one of those days where I wished I spoke better Vietnamese, or that my translator had been with me. I’ll try to find the young man in the second portrait again. His name is Tuan and there’s a lot more going on than this picture suggests. But isn’t that always the case.
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.