Yesterday I was fortunate to have met two interesting but very different photographers, who happened to pass through Hanoi.
Diego Lopéz Calvin is a professional photographer from Madrid, Spain. He works in the Spanish film industry as a stills photographer and cameraman. For the past 20 years however, he's been developing a fascinating personal project in his spare time called 'solarigrafía' (www.solarigrafia.com). Through the pinhole photography technique he manages to take extremely long exposure photos of the sun. We're talking about 6 months here to create one single image, in which the path the sun follows over this period of time becomes visible as a band of colorful rays. As the camera is exposed to the elements for such a long period of time, things like weather, climate, dust, insects, etc. also affect it, creating absolutely unique images. His idea took off on the internet and nowadays there's a community of 'solarigrafists' that have installed thousands of these home-made cameras all around the world, slowly but surely capturing the sun's rays. Today I've put one of Diego's cameras up on the roof of our house, curious to see what the result will be in 6 months time. I'm planning to build a few of these cameras myself soon, to set up around the city.
The other photographer I met yesterday is US street photographer and blogger Eric Kim. Eric's in town to guide a week-long workshop from Hanoi to Sapa. He's a real 'hustler' as he likes to call himself on his blog, publishing several articles and vlogs daily, organizing street photography workshops around the world, publishing books and developing photography-related products like camera straps and bags (www.erickimphotography.com). We met up over a coffee and chatted away for a few hours. I'm going to take his cue and blog a bit more in the future. So without further ado, here are a few images I made in Brussels recently.
Since wrapping up my 'Alley' project, I've been developing a new visual story within the framework of the IPA Mentorship program, a very interesting mentorship organised by the Singapore-based photography platform Invisible Photographer Asia (http://invisiblephotographer.asia/). I won't share this series just yet, as I'm still in the midst of creating and fleshing it out. But I do hope to publish this story in the near future, so watch this space!
Working on this new project has brought me to areas of Hanoi that I'd never visited before and that I probably never would visit unless I'd have a specific purpose. Even after four years, there are still many places in the city like that, ready to be explored and photographed. These places are - visually - as far away from the famous Old Quarter or French Quarter as one can imagine. But that doesn't make them any less interesting or 'photo-worthy'. These are largely anonymous neighborhoods, both in the heart and the outskirts of the city, consisting of thousands of streets and alleys where huge numbers of Hanoi's population live their daily lives. These residential areas might seem bland and uninteresting to some, but giving them a closer look - in the right light, and camera at hand of course - can be very rewarding.
I like to wander these areas after dusk, motorbiking my way around the streets and stopping every so often to catch a scene. Here are a few recent images, which I - for now - consider as small sidesteps from the main series that is under development.
The yearly Lunar New Year holiday in Vietnam has come and gone. Our family traditionally spends this holiday somewhere outside of Vietnam, taking in as much as possible of what this fabulous region has to offer. This year we revisited Sri Lanka. This gorgeous South Asian island nation offers an easily accessible mix of culture, nature and relaxation. This time our trip focused on some of the central and northwestern highlights, such as the city of Kandy, the ancient centre of Theravada Buddhism Anuradhapura, Wilpattu National Park and the beach area near Kalpitiya. Feel free to have a look at the slideshow below, with a random mix of images I made during our trip.
It was bound to happen. I finally gave in to the siren call of the Red Dot and bought a Leica…
For those of you who know a thing or two about photography, the name Leica will surely ring a bell. For the clueless: Leica is a top-of-the-line German camera brand. It was Oskar Barnack, an employee at Ernst Leitz’s camera factory in Wetzlar, Germany, who conceived the first prototypes of a revolutionary portable camera system just prior to World War I. These cameras were designed to produce small negatives from film rolls, to be enlarged to printed photographs. Sounds familiar, right? Barnack’s concoctions were tiny compared to the unwieldy large and impractical wooden boxes with glass plates on tripods that formed the standard back in the day. His inventions were no less than the start of a new era in photography.
Fast forward to 2018. Modern Leica’s are well known for their image quality, simple and barebones intuitive controls, beautiful design, and… price. These pieces of craftmanship are expensive, although that is to be expected considering the materials that are used and seeing how meticulously these machines are being constructed and tested in Germany. Nevertheless, if you want The Real Deal in the form of the latest digital Leica M10 with one lens for example, be ready to shell out roughly nine thousand euro. At least. The conclusion was quickly reached: this was not an option.
So what does one do? One starts checking for less costly alternatives, albeit still within the digital Leica realm. For the sake of brevity, let me just say that these alternatives are few and far between. There is of course the Q, which costs slightly less than half of what the M10 with a similar lens would go for: a bargain in Leica terms. Other options are the CL or the Leica-branded Panasonics. At some point I started looking at older cameras: discontinued models still available on the used market, like the M8 and the Leica M-mount Epson R-D1 (what an amazing machine that is!). And then I stumbled upon the Leica X-series.
From 2009 to 2017 Leica produced this series of fixed-lens compacts. While I was actually looking for an all-black Leica X2, I jumped on the occasion to buy a mint X-E with the handy add-on EVF when the opportunity presented itself. The X2 and X-E are in essence the exact same camera, the only difference being that the X-E was built more recently and has a distinct yet beautiful titanium-silver look.
Of course, these cameras constitute a compromise, like all. While you get an actual German-made optical precision tool with a 16MP APS-C-sized sensor perfectly coupled to a brilliant 24mm f2.8 Elmarit lens, you have to sacrifice quite a bit of speed, both in terms of autofocus and general operation. Do you want to shoot fast action? Best to avoid this camera then as its autofocus is positively glacial at best. However, if you are more interested in contemplative street and travel photography, like me, you might have a winner on your hands.
So here I am with my shiny new/old camera. How will I fare with it? Only one way to find out. Check back soon for photos taken with the Leica X-E.
During the school breaks we love to explore the magnificent region of Southeast Asia. This autumn break we traveled to Lombok, Indonesia, just east of Bali. It feels a bit more off-the-beaten-path, but is still very easy to go around. We stayed in different parts of the island, which allowed us to hike the jungly parts at the base of Mount Rinjani in the north, snorkel around the so-called Secret Gili islands in the southwest and enjoy the laidback southeast where surfers reign the waves. If time permitted, we would have loved to stay longer and see more of the island. But alas, duty calls...
Ninh Binh, also dubbed the 'Halong Bay on Land', recently became more famous because of the movie 'Kong: Skull Island' which was partly filmed there. At a convenient two hour drive from Hanoi, this region is a perfect weekend getaway. It looks a bit rough around the edges but in reality it's a lot of fun. In fact, it's very easy to explore on foot, by bicycle or by boat and numerous small homestays and a few more upmarket hotels are available for staying overnight. We spent a weekend there and had a great time!
Sometimes you need an outsider's eye to see. These photos were taken over the last weekend while roaming around with visiting friends. It allowed us to discover new parts of Hanoi, and to look at the city from another perspective.
The Long Bien wholesale market, located next to the Long Bien bridge, is one big hustle and bustle. Trucks full of fresh produce coming from outside of the city start with their deliveries around midnight, after which shop and restaurant owners come to pick and choose the fruit and veggies they'll serve the next day. It's a noisey yet colorful chaos, worth spending a few hours in the middle of the night.
A while ago I briefly visited the Central Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City. Suliman, a very welcoming Egyptian, showed me around. I was quite astonished when I learnt that this is just one of in total seventeen mosques the city features. Its location is quite peculiar, perched up against the Sheraton and Caravelle hotels. Somehow I never connected Islam with Vietnam, but I should have realised there is an old link through the presence of the partly Islamic Cham people living in Vietnam and Cambodia.