Still going through my archives from this past year. I worked a lot. I traveled a lot. I took a lot of pictures. Some better than others. These few from Tokyo were passed over a few months ago when I first took them, but going through everything again, they stood out. Maybe not stood out for a portfolio, but certainly for a small blog post. I was obsessed with geometry and crowds in Japan. And with playing video games. I was only there for four days. Not nearly long enough.
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.
On Friday of next week, February 26th from 6-9pm, I’ll be opening a photography exhibit with three other individuals at The Bui Gallery in Hanoi. If you’re around the capital, please stop by to see some new work to ring in the Year of the Tiger. The four rooms of the gallery will be painted black and separated by large black curtains, creating something of an ominous viewing air. There’s even talk of black carpeting for the show. And what better way to view the myriad inconsistencies and juxtapositions that are Hanoi?
The Bui Gallery came to Hanoi nearly a year ago after establishing itself in Paris, and Betty Bui, the gallery owner, has mentioned plans to open a third venue in Singapore in the near future. I’m excited to be part of the gallery’s roster, and look forward to working with them at the opening next week, and far into the future.
While I was in Singapore, I visited the gallery’s printer and looked over some of their sample images. Everything looked great, but still, here’s to hoping they do a good job with the final prints, as I won’t be around to monitor them. Which makes me slightly nervous, especially since a few of the images will be shown quite large (180x120cm), and I’m not used to relinquishing control of my final printings. Anyway, I hope to see fellow Hanoians and wayward travelers at the opening.
Just a few more test shots from one of Hanoi’s New Urban Areas. Basically glorified and scarier pre-suburbs, but with larger buildings and wider roads and a lot less people. These places offer a stark contrast to the general chaos of the capital. I’ll be working on a more long-term project in these areas for the next few months, hopefully employing some new techniques and going back to some old equipment in the process. We’ll see how that all turns out soon enough. There are a lot of things I need to find here in order for this to come out the way I’m envisioning.
I’m starting work on something of a large and sprawling personal project, dealing with some of the capital’s new urban areas and its rapid outward expansion and full-throttle thrust into the global economy. One of the nice things about starting on a body of work this loose and disorganized is that I can kind of play around with different mediums and formats and see what I think will really work for the story, as I begin to narrow it all down.
The shots above are all from some expired black & white film I had lying around, processed at a crappy camera store in the Old Quarter. I like the damaged, dark look they’ve taken on, but next time I’ll try to keep a bit more control over the final product. I can always mess them up more, but I can’t take back some of the things the camera store screwed up on. Regardless, it feels good to be shooting film again. It’s hardly ever practical for assignments, so I’m trying to play around with it more for my personal work. I’m not sure what I think of these images in the long term, but they offer an interesting perspective for now.