Busy Hanoi

Busy Hanoi
Tribes of Vietnam Within The Frame Photographic Adventures September 2019

These small “restaurants” are typical in Hanoi, actually most of Viet Nam I would suspect. On my first day out, it was these colorful restaurant stalls, flowered shirts, and the constant movement of motorbikes, that caught my attention.

Hanoi First Impressions – Traffic

School’s Out – Hanoi, Vietnam
Tribes of Vietnam Within The Frame Photographic Adventures September 2019

There is no mincing words, Hanoi is one noisy-hectic city. Crowded with people and motorbikes. More accurately, people on motorbikes, incessantly honking their horns. Not, as my guide informed me, in anger, but as a warning: “Here I am, I’m going this way, you should watch out for me.” It is their version of a turn signal, if there were any traffic rules about turn signals. The traffic in Vietnam, as experienced in both the big city of Hanoi and on the local roads in the isolated hills in the north, seems to be ruled only by the drivers confidence that they can successfully steer their way through the maze of other motorbikes, trucks, busses, and pedestrians without neither being hit nor do the hitting. The rule for pedestrians is to look the drivers in the eye and walk at a constant pace. They will judge your motions and steer away from hitting you. Both parties must be confident and must adhere to these rules or there may be dire consequences. The loudest drivers are the middle-aged women in their fashionable shoes on their vespa-like scooters. Their constant “beep, beep, beep, beep” say: “Out of my way, I am the matriarch here!”.

A little bit of the Pan Ho Valley, Vietnam

I don’t usually share images that haven’t had a final edit, but I have a little downtime and thought you might be interested in the sights of Vietnam. These images were taken in RAW+JPG on my Oly and roughly edited on my iPad with Snapseed.

Welcome to Vietnam. On this trip, my travel mates and I are exploring the minority tribes in the northern areas of Vietnam up near the border with China. There are many different minority peoples and it is easy to get confused with names like Red Dao, Black Dao, Flower Mong, Tay. Each of these people have their own dress and live in different, but overlapping, regions.

This is the Pan Ho valley, and yesterday, we trekked from the bottom of this valley to the top. Our timing for visiting this region has been perfection aligned with the beginning of rice harvest in this area. The scenery is just spectacular.

On this trek, we visited a woman from the Black Dao minority group. The Black Dao chew the bettle-nut leaf which turns their teeth black. This woman invited us in for tea and showed off her very young grand-daughter, only a couple of months old. Because of the rice harvest, Mom was already back in the field. Each family must harvest enough rice for the year, as there is only one crop per year in this area.

On our drive up to this area, we stopped for tea in a small town. Our guide, Thau (pronounced Tao), can make friends with anyone, but the fact that we were carrying some local rice-wine didn’t hurt. This wonderfully vibrant and sassy woman invited us to her home, just a short ways up the road, for some fried fish and to share a drink. She is from the Red Dao group.

I hope you enjoy, and greetings from Vietnam.


Some images, you don’t even remember taking

(From my travels to Morocco February 2019 with Within The Frame Photographic Adventures, led by Jeffrey Chapman and Winslow Lockhart) 

There are some images that make an impression as soon as you hit the shutter, others you may not even remember.

Some images you know the moment you hit the shutter…

After three days in Chefchauen, the beautiful blue city of Morocco, our next destination Fes, we stopped at the green city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun for lunch an a cultural tour. Moulay Idriss, like Chefcauen and Fes, has an old medina, of winding passages built on a hill. One the road leading to the medina is here where supplies are brought into town and the market stalls and tea stands are setup. As we were walking to our van, a little short on time, I saw this scene and I think I turned to someone and said – “I need to get this scene”. The color, geometry, and story all spoke to me instantly. Sporting a 50mm lens, I quickly checked some settings, veered left toward the group of men, lifted my camera to my eye and took two quick shots while still in stride, and went back to the group.

Some images, you don’t even remember taking…

On our last afternoon in Chefchauen, a group of us walked through the medina looking for light. On one of the main passages through the medina, this potential scene presented itself. After just a few minutes of shooting, I realized that, even though we had this great streak of light on the wall, very little of the light was falling where people were actually walking. But I was game to watch and wait. I took several shots, trying for the right moment, the right light, but ultimately walked away thinking that nothing special was captured. It happens that way with street photography. But, to my surprise, a few weeks later, upon detailed edit, looking through every image, I found this frame showing a universal story of father and daughter; a perfect moment set against the backdrop of the blue city, berber designs, and dramatic light.

Beach Scenes – a short walk, a meaningful image

On the fourth day (Thursday) of my workshop with Jay Maisel in 2012, after a morning spent the morning catching up on image critiques, we were taken for lunch to little whole in the wall place that served only two kinds of Chinese dim-sum – sesame bread pork sandwiches and something else. As usual, Jay told us what was best (his favorite) and gave us that look that said: “Hey, I just told you what was the best thing here, but you can make up your own mind.” After lunch we had maybe one-and-a-half hours before we were due back at “The Bank” (Jay’s home, and where we met for the workshop). Jay gave us this advice: “You are going to use this time to prove to yourself that you don’t need a lot of time to make meaningful images.”

Beginning last summer, I have made it a point to take short walks on at the near-by beaches (about 30 minutes away) to spend time with my husband and to see what kind of “meaningful images” I could make in that short time. Last weekend I came upon this scene showing the beach life reflected in the front glass of the new lifeguard stations at Leo Carrillo State Beach. The beach infrastructure was severely impacted by by the Woolsey Fire last summer and all of the historic wooden lifeguard stations have been replaced by these fiberglass pod-like structures. A couple of my all-time favorite images will never be able to be reproduced due to these changes. Another thing Jay taught us at the workshop: “Never assume you can go back.”

More about Jay and the Jay Myself movie

Jay Maisel is one of America’s master photographers and I was lucky enough to take a workshop with him at his infamous “Bank Building” in the Bowery NYC in May 2012. Jay is amazing: his photographic achievements, his approach to life, his creativity, his authenticity. In 2015, Jay sold the bank building and as he moved out, Stephen Wilkes made a documentary film, called Jay Myself, about Jay, his building, and the moving process . You can find some background and the bank building here, and more information about the movie Jay Myself show times at the Laemmle theatre page.  Jay Myself will be showing at Laemmle Royal in Santa Monica CA form August 16 – 22nd 

The Chouara Tannery in Fez

One of the iconic locations in Fez is the Chouara Tannery located in the media or Fes al Bali. Anyone who visits Fez, who walks anywhere near the tannery, whether lost in the medina or specifically heading in that direction, will get many invitations to “come see my families leather store” or “let me take you to see the tannery”, of course with the expectation of a small fee in return.

I can’t imagine what it is like to be a tannery worker – kneading the leather in vats of alkali pigeon poop and then dying them in adjacent vats. It looked like back-breaking toxic work.

I was also lucky enough to see the leather auction, which occurs once or twice a week. The auction was vibrant and chaotic, and as I roamed through the men selling their leather, I just tried to stay in the middle of things. There were images everywhere, but I especially want to capture the leather dust in the air created by each seller opening and closing their tanned hides, so that the buyers could see every side.

Using Point of View

It’s July and once again I am speaking at the Thousand Oaks Photo Group  monthly meeting. Over the past several years, I have been engaged with the club, providing brief tutorials on using different compositional techniques to improve their photography. Tonight’s talk is on using Point of View
Let me start with a definition:

Point of View (noun-phrase)

  • a particular attitude or way of considering a matter
  • (in fictional writing) the narrator’s position in relation to a story being told
  • the position from which something or someone is observed

Synonyms: opinion, view, belief, attitude, feeling, sentiment, way of thinking, way of looking at it, thoughts, ideas

The Literal Interpretation

A photographer can approach this compositional technique literally or conceptually. The third definition, the position from which something or someone is observed,is a literal interpretation. In photography, this can be summarized as “eye-level is boring”. Our job as a photographer is to seek out positions from which to observer something (or someone) that is not ordinary, to show something that most people will never see as they just walk about in the world.

Going low and looking up allows the photographer separate the subject from the scene by simplifying the background and heightening the impact of the subject.

Other perspectives include a high vantage point,

getting close,

from behind,

and looking through.

Conceptual Approach

Looking beyond the literal, a photographer can begin to explore unique perspectives to familiar objects or scenes. Providing a conceptual point of view is a critical to engaging story telling. 

As an example, here are three, what I will call, documentary views of gardeners in a famous garden in Kanazawa Japan, preparing the garden to protect the trees limbs from breaking under the weight of the heavy snowfall seen in this region. These images tell the documentary story of the workers and the approach. They are a factual narrative.

This image, however, presents a unique point of view, focusing on the geometric positioning, color and texture in the scene. It is not the frame that the causal observer would stop at to look and enjoy.

Whether you are making images of flowers, a daily hike, a local parade, or a family portrait, you owe it to your viewers to provide them with a unique perspective and to show them something in a way that they would not, by themselves, see.