In my last post, I mentioned that I had been out of town on a trip. I took a trip on my motorbike from Saigon, up through the central highlands of Vietnam, down into Danang city, up to Hue, and then down the coast all the way back to Saigon. Altogether the trip took me over 5 weeks. I started with a couple of friends riding up with me (one of them being Josh, the guy at Hi-Fai that built this website), met several more friends in Danang from Vietnam and overseas, we all stuck together for over a week until the group started falling apart, people started going their own separate ways, and finally the last 12 days or so I was by myself. I shot tons of film, both 35mm and 6×7 medium format, color and black and white. I worked really hard, and got what I thought was quite a bit of good work done.
The only problem is that almost all of my negative/slide scans are terrible. I thought that was the problem, because my slides look really, really nice, however on the computer screen they’re just flat, drab… terrible. A good friend of mine who is a professional photographer took a look at my work today and confirmed what I had hoped was correct – that my work was actually pretty good, and it was the scanning that was faulty. This is good and bad – good, because it means that I still have good slides, and didn’t waste a huge amount of money shooting garbage. It’s bad because I don’t have digital copies of most of my good shots to process and put up on my blog! Having never shot using medium format or slide film previously outside a few isolated instances, I felt I needed a second opinion before I continued spending more cash shooting, and getting more work processed and scanned at the same location. I’m really happy to know that I have quality some quality material to work with, but I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be able to afford a scanner will be.
In the meantime, I’ll start posting some of the stuff that did scan well. All my black and white stuff came out fine, and for some reason my 35mm work seems to have scanned much better than the medium format stuff did.
On the first night of the trip we stayed in a town called Thac Mo in Binh Phuoc province, and the next day we pushed on to the next large town to the northeast, Buon Ma Thuot. This was the first place we stayed for more than one night. We checked out a few different places in the area while we were there, but the first place we got to explore was the Tet Holiday flower market, a vast, seasonal market stretching down a main east-west thoroughfare which had been blocked to traffic, covering several square city blocks, flowing over into local parks and even 2 or 3 blocks to the north and south down the intersecting streets.
I wandered around by myself for several hours with my little Nikon FE and a 60mm macro lens. All of the shots on this post were taken on Fuji Reala 100 speed color negative film. I have another Nikon that has a somewhat more sophisticated light meter that I would have preferred to use, buhe shutter release jammed after about 48 hours on the road. It was a good thing I brought both of my 35mm bodies, however the meter on the FE isn’t exactly the best thing to use for macro work. As a result, a lot of the highlights were burnt on this series of images.
The first photo on this post is called “hoa mai”, or “apricot flower” in Vietnamese. In southern Vietnam it’s synonymous with Tet Holiday and New Year’s festivities in general. You can think of it sort of like a Vietnamese Christmas tree, in that anybody in Vietnam who sees these flowers will automatically associate them with the New Year’s holiday season. In northern Vietnam they use a pink flower called “hoa dao”, but in the south it’s definitely yellow, and yellow seems to be the official color for Tet Holiday in general. I would guess that about 95% of the flowers at the market were yellow, rows and rows of yellow flowers stretching down the streets. It’s beautiful, but it can be difficult to find any contrast or tonal variation when you’re shooting. I looked for opportunities where I could either get other colors besides yellow for some contrast, or where I could isolate the yellow flowers against an alternate colored background.
Finally, this last one here turned out to be one of my favorite shots from the entire trip. I snapped this one in passing, and completely forgot about it until I got the negatives back from the lab. That’s one of the things I really like about using film now – I get surprises!
Some of the black and white work I did came out really well, so I’ll be posting some of that soon as well. I had originally planned on presenting the entire trip in chronological journalistic posts, but because of the fiasco with my scans it’s not really feasible at the moment. I’ll just do it all according to subject matter rather than day to day. Is there anybody in HCMC that’s got a negative scanner that can do medium format? After spending over $200 just on scanning for a bunch of garbage, I’m a little bit reluctant to go back to the same lab…