In northern Viet Nam, our long hikes through the hills and valleys of rice fields, were often rewarded with the opportunity to visit in someone’s home. This older man was, actually, quite drunk. He mostly just sat there drinking his homemade distilled rice alcohol (tastes much like sake). He was quite patient with our photography, as long as we filed his cup.
I didn’t do enough photography (this is a bad thing)
I’m still restless about the meaning and use of photography (this is a good thing)
Rusty in Morocco – February
(click on an image for larger views)
I took my first photographic travel adventure in February 2013 to Cuba. I have since followed this with yearly adventures; traveling with photographers, for photography.
2013 – Cuba and Oaxaca
2014 – Portugal
2015 – Ireland
2016 – Japan
2017 – Mongolia
2019 Morocco and Vietnam
Experiencing life in another country, through another culture, is a way to open your eyes to what you have, what you don’t have, and contemplate what you really need. Doing it with photographers, for photography, provides the opportunity to stop, linger, and explore the alleys and side streets away from the national monuments and museums.
Unfortunately, it is also far too easy to get lulled into a rhythm of only photographing when you are traveling. At home, work gets in the way, life gets in the way, boredom gets in the way. In Morocco, I felt really rusty. My photographs were nice, but predictable. Too many times, I heard the voice of a previous mentor saying “too much like something you would see in a travel brochure”. Well framed – yes, well organized – sure, interesting content – mostly, unique vision – maybe.
Better in Vietnam – September
(click on an image for larger views)
But Vietnam was better. I was really apprehensive about this trip. I was actually, secretly, looking for excuses to cancel. It was odd from the beginning, with odd circumstances, very small (only 3 of us), but oh so fantastic. There are a few things I did differently on this trip. 1) I concentrated on making photographs all summer. Sometimes just for 2 hours a week, during shot walks on the beach with my husband, but exercising my photographic eye none-the-less. 2) I got there early and hired a guide for a day and a half. Once I taught him to slow down and linger, I could loose myself in the surroundings. Hanoi was busy and all things a street photographer could want. The northern country side was stunning and our local guide brought us to people and places that we would have never found otherwise. It was hot, it was hard (long treks), but it was rewarding.
Changes for 2020:
I will make more photographs at home. Maybe literally at home. Lots of pictures of Chick in our small condo. But this will be stimulating and challenging.
I will make more photographs outside of my usual street photography genre. For a few years now, I stopped going shooting with my friends when they went out to shoot birds, or fields, or something other than the street. This was my loss. Pictures are cheap, but practice is not. I forgot this and stopped taking advantage of cheap opportunities for pictures and lost out on the practice.
Happy 2020 – I head to China in September to discover the Silk Road.
When most photographers talk about “looking for the light”, they are looking for scenes where the light is falling on-to their subject. However, in this alleyway in Fes, Morocco, I was fascinated by how the light was not on the subject. I knew it would be an interesting task to make these images sing. I hope you like them, because this is what watching life in the Medina felt like.
Notes for photographers
My first approach was to bring up the shadows and normalize the figures to the same light values as the background. This was a horrible mistake. First, the images were way to noisy, second they lost the visual mystery which prompted my initial interest in this location and lighting. Regarding the noise. I’m shooting with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 mk II, still , although one of my favorite cameras to use. However, with its smaller (and now older) micro-four-thirds sensor, it just doesn’t capture the dynamic range of newer (and larger) sensor designs like that in the latest crop from Sony and Fuji’s.
So for a while, I put these images away. However, they tugged at my memory, and as I thought about them more, I realized that the reason I stayed in this area with the “horrible light” was because I was fascinated by this up-side-down and backward arrangement of light. The subject not really in silhouette, but certainly not lit. I stayed in this spot for quite some time and watched so many different people, doing different things, walk in front of me. So, on second attempt, I emphasized the contrast, pushed the noise reduction a light and concentrated on bringing out only the highlights in the foreground shadow area.
We were staying at the poshest place in Sapa, the Topas Echo Lodge with its infinity swimming pool and private hutch-roofed bungalows. But during the day Thao, our guide, would trek us through the hills and valleys to meet the local minority people. On this particular day, we were met at the entrance to the Topas Echo lodge by a gaggle of women from the Red Dao tribe. They congregate at the end of the walk way hoping to pick up a group of tourists to guide them on their trek. Their aim is to sell you some of their handicraft purses and such. All across northern Viet Nam, the local woman hand-weave, dye, sew, and stitch not only their local costumes, but also purses and bags to sell to the tourists.
At first I did not welcome Lei Wa to our small group of travelers (myself, two other photographers, and our guide Thao), but after some time, we welcomed her. At some point along the trail, Lei Wa pointed to some ducks as said “My ducks!”. We have crossed into her land, and Thao, who could make friends with anyone, got us an invitation into her home where we shared some rice wine and she modeled her full Red Dao custom dress. This dress represented hours of work, made of hemp (hand woven and dyed in the area), and hand sewn by Lei Wa with each tassel, cross stitch, and coin hand stitched. Early in our meeting, we were able to take a close look at her beautiful Red Dao hat with its long red tassels as she looked out over the lush Viet Nam landscape.#sapa
I have had the luxury of spending this Sunday afternoon editing and processing my images from Viet Nam. Something about this moment and this trip, and I am relishing each moment with these images in a way that I haven’t in a while. I have slowed down, taking my time, experimenting, and reliving the experiences of being there. There is such a variety from gritty Hanoi street photography, market scenes, life in the hill towns, and even a few landscapes.
One of the thrills of this trip, was that we were smack-dab in the middle of the rice harvest. Long treks up hills and through valleys were rewarded by being able to spend time in the field with the families harvesting their rice.
The top image shows many stages of the rice harvest, a corn field, and even a small vegetable garden. The yellow areas of this field, are ripe, ready-to-harvest rice. The family is cutting the rice and laying it down in large bunches on top of the cut stalks. After a couple of days, it will be dry enough to collect and thresh. In this field, there are large patches that have been completely harvested, patches that look to have been cut a few days ago, patches in the process of being cut, and patches not cut at all. The area of green around the little storage hut is probably a patch of sticky rice. We were told that leaves of the sticky rice plant grow taller than the rice stalks, so even if it were ripe, the yellow rice grains would not be visible. With regular rice, it is the opposite.
The little hut in the image is used for storage and is raised to keep anything in there from getting wet. Behind the hut is a patch of corn. Feed-corn is grown for the animals: water buffalo, pigs, and chickens. I think that the fenced in area is a small vegetable garden. These hill town inhabitants are nearly fully self-sustaining. The rice, corn, and animals are for their family alone and there is only one rice crop per year in this area.
It was not uncommon to see mostly women in the fields doing the harvesting, with one or two men to do the heaviest lifting once a large amount of rice or rice stalks have been collected. We spent quite some time with these folks watching them work the fields.
On the road to our first market stop in Can Can, we spent some time with these two women and their boy (not exactly sure whose boy this is). I was trying a new lens combination, a manual focus Zeiss 50mm f/2 – which is equivalent to a 100mm on my Oly. I didn’t realize how shallow of a depth of field I would get and I have an entire series of this trio with the women perfectly sharp, but the boy just out of focus. When I realized this, I stopped down a bit but they had already tuned us out so I was able to get this more candid shot. These women are, I think, from the Flower H’Mong minority group.