I had convinced myself I was going to wake up at 6:30am and start shooting if the weather was nice, and do some exercise if it wasn’t. I did, in fact wake up in time, stagger to my door, and look out at the grey, hazy morning sky. That’s as far as I got. I happily got back in bed, vaguely hoping for better weather later in the day, and distinctly hoping for my headache to go away. Happy New Year, indeed.
Thankfully the weather and my pulsing head both improved, at least marginally, and around 10:30am our guide took us on a long walk over to another island so we could check out an old house.
At that hour of the morning, the light was too hard to get good shots of anything directly in the sunlight, so I decided to try and get some pictures of plants and fruit using the natural, diffused light in the shadowed areas.
I had Kodak ColorPlus 200 speed film loaded into my cameras, which I can get for less about $1.75 a roll here in Saigon, so I wasn’t feeling shy about shooting off lots of frames and experimenting with stuff. I’m actually really impressed with how the colors and details came out, especially considering it’s negative film. I was particularly happy with this picture of a gourd I got.
I found it sitting on this table, under a little covered area next to a tiny old house. I moved the gourd a bit in order to make a nice composition with the window in the background, but essentially this is just how I found it, sitting on an old rotten table in that beautiful, diffused light.
Eventually we came upon an old cable suspension bridge crossing a channel between the two islands. The river ran almost perfectly west to east, with the sun able to cut a direct path overhead. Adam and I had found our afternoon shooting spot – we’d be returning here at about 4 in the afternoon.
The bridge led over to a much more developed village, with cement pathways instead of dirt, and the occasional snack shop or noodle stall. After stopping to get some much-needed water, we headed further into the village until we came upon the ancient house.
The house was actually pretty cool, built some time in the late 1800s. Southern Vietnam was populated much more recently than the north and central regions were, and so old architecture is not nearly as easy to come across. Structures built before 1900 are uncommon, and ones built before 1800 are almost unheard of. This particular home we visited has been in the current owner’s family for several generations. Out in front of the house were hundreds of small pots, containing “cay mai”, small trees that bloom with bright yellow flowers, usually coinciding with Tet holiday. In southern Vietnam these flowers invoke a festive feeling in the locals, similar to how a Christmas tree does with people in the West. The family at the house has been breeding them for years and years, and renting out the small trees to local families over Tet holiday. Around the back of the house they raise fighting cocks, which they claim sell for 5-6 million Dong (somewhere around $300). It would have been a great place to shoot, if it hadn’t been high Noon with such hard, white light. I did, however get a great portrait of the nice old lady that invited us into the house and gave us tea to drink!
Stopping again at the little snack shop on the way back, we had the woman running the shop make us “nuoc mia” – fresh crushed sugar cane juice on ice, usually with a squeeze of lemon or orange in it. Fantastic. This shot is a picture of her with her sugar-cane-mashing machine. I shot through a roll of Ilford PANF 100 over the weekend, but most of it was just okay, nothing really stood out to me except this one shot. Due to the low light I had to shoot wide open at f/1.8. Because of the extremely shallow depth of field at that aperture setting, I had to focus on an area near the middle of her machine and wait for her to lean forward and grab the cane coming out the other side and try and catch the shot at the perfect moment.
After returning to our rooms, cleaning up a bit, having lunch and having a short rest, Adam and I set off together back to the bridge for some good afternoon shots. We’d been hoping for some good sunset shots down the river, and maybe some nice shots off to the east with boats laden with fruit coming towards us on the river.
Well, things in the Mekhong Delta move at a slower pace than you might like them to at times, and very few boats came along. While it was looking like I might not get that nice, wide angle sunset photo with boats and great colors in the sky, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from doing something else. The light coming into the bridge from the west was perfect, and so I decided to crouch down on the opposite side of the path across the bridge and photograph people going past on their motorbikes and bicycles. Adam and I sat there shooting for about an hour, waiting again and again to get good shots of people coming across the bridge.
Crouched down on a rickety little bridge swaying back and forth over a river while motorbikes zip past you can be a bit unnerving, but it makes for good photography! After using up most of a roll of Fujifilm Provia 100F slide film, I got these couple of shots that I really liked, plus the portrait I used to start off this post. The horizon was quite bright in comparison to my foreground, so I used a .6 graduated neutral density filter to bright out the blues in the sky.
And as far as photography goes, that was all we did that was worth talking about that weekend! I could complain about how our tour the next morning got us to the floating market too late to see anything, and the rest of it was touristy and crappy, but you wouldn’t care. Mini-bus rides are boring to talk about, and besides all that I’m out of decent shots to show off from the trip. I won’t be taking any more trips until the first week of February, but I’ve got quite a few mornings off in the next couple of weeks, and some material from the last few weeks that I’ve been saving up to use in galleries. More soon!