A Guide to Taking Your Own Insta-worthy Photos in Hanoi P.1

Posted by SE Vietnam - Student Exchange Vietnam

If you are doing internship in Vietnam, living in Hanoi and immersing yourself into Hanoi’s beauty will definitely make you fall in love with this alluring city. Hanoi’s appeals are derived from its perfect combination of old and new, traditional and modern, day and night, all of which cannot be felt thoroughly without your sophistication and strong affection for Hanoi. Understanding this hidden amazing beauty, CNN International broadcast #MYHANOI – a series that showcases six Instagrammers with their own storytelling photographical styles to highlight the best of what Hanoi has to offer – from March 31st to April 5th, 2017.

Let’s see how Hanoi is like through these photographers’ lenses, and you may learn something from them in your quest of Hanoi beauty.

Javier Puig Saura

Coming from Spain, Javier has been working as an official at Spain Embassy, Hanoi since 2014. Until now, Hanoi is not just a working place where he pursues his diplomat career, but also a source of inspiration for his long-lost passion – photography.

Through his photos, he proves himself to be a culture hound, as his significant stories with Hanoi lie in the deepest cultural features of the city. To Javier, the 1000-year-old capital is where “Life, from birth to death, happens on the streets. And there is also this fabulous mix of tradition and modernity, European influence and Asian character.”

In Javier’s eyes, the more he photographs Hanoi, the more alluring Hanoi becomes and keeps telling him to explore further. Hanoi is not just about food and landscapes; more importantly, it’s about the people. Therefore, Javier navigates his shots towards the people and their ordinary life, which seems to be minimal but contributes the most to what is Hanoi. “Basically, taking pictures is an excuse to meet people so I use the camera as a pretext”, says Javier – “For me to trigger the camera is the last act on a long series of actions. I like to find a true little story, something unimportant but real as life.” If you are lucky enough, you may catch sight of this Spanish diplomat doing what he’s best at besides photography – drinking beer, making conversations with people on the streets and even giving them printed photos as gifts.

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Javier is especially in love with the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. Some of his most precious shots are taken in the Old Quarter, which Javier says is endlessly photogenic with its yellow facades, French colonial architecture, and bustling motor traffic. Hoan Kiem Lake is also where his inspiration comes from, as he observes Vietnamese people of all ages do exercises such as yoga, Aikido, etc. or simply enjoy a conical ice-cream in their hands.

What’s more, on the 1st and 15th of every month, Javier visits major pagodas and to take portraits of the calligraphers whose job “is to write in old Vietnamese characters the wishes and prayers of the worshippers in papers that they will then burn in the fire of the pagoda,” explains Javier, and “The smoke is supposed to convey the wishes to the heavenly gods. They wear long beards and are dressed in colorful robes – it’s a beautiful sight.” Javier, it’s not just a beautiful sight, it’s part of Vietnamese soul that you capture.

Hai Thanh

Totally different from each other in their origins, Hai Thanh and Javier share one thing in common when it comes to photography: ordinary life of ordinary people. However, as a Hanoi-born photographer and journalist, in every picture that he takes, no matter how spontaneous it is, there is a story he wants to tell. That’s why he is labeled by CNN as a storyteller.

Though focusing on daily activities, Hai Thanh implies social issues including living conditions and the evolution of the city. He shares “In the early years, I used street photography as a tool to develop my own voice”. Probably this is the compass that has been leading him on his self-taught photographical journey since 2004.

Being born and having lived his whole life in Hanoi, Hai Thanh has an incomparable love for the city, where he embraces every single small detail that in his eyes all matters. “I try to capture the emotions inside the pictures,” he says. “When I’m on the street and taking photos, it keeps me motivated.” Plus, because Hanoi is already so perfect in its imperfection, spontaneity means unnecessary perfect photos.

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Besides the people who are an interesting aspect of Hanoi, food is also an indispensable element in his albums. “You must taste the local food in every corner of the Old Quarter”, he says, “You don’t know anything about Hanoi if you never try the street foods.” No wonder a trip to Hanoi isn’t complete without phở bò (beef noodle soup), bún chả (grilled pork with rice noodle), bánh mỳ pate (goose pate sandwiches) and other so-Hanoi specialties!

Maika Elan

Maika Elan and Hai Thanh seem to have been born for each other as both are so attached to Hanoi and have an ultimate passion for documentary photography. Making her first steps in photography journey in 2006, Maika took villages and farmers in the countryside of Vietnam as her subjects, but then moved her camera direction towards city life and issues closer to home.

Unlike her husband who targets every potential scene on the street, Maika prefers to explore the small alleys where she believes all the positive and pure energy of the city comes from. “I love to take picture in the small alleys. They look very small and dark from outside, but when you walk in, its very long and often open up to stairways or kitchen, with lots of sunshine. It always takes me by surprise.” In the Old Quarters, people eat in alleys, sleep in alleys, whisper in alleys. All the scents and laughter are hidden in there, and her photos depict people, living spaces, every sense of happiness or sadness, in those valleys, where all begins.

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Kindly referred to as an activist by CNN, Maika spares a special corner of her heart to document the daily struggles of Vietnamese people. After two years travelling across Vietnam to delve into the lives of same-sex couples in Elan’s “The Pink Choice” project, she brought back with her hundreds of intimate photos in the homes of more than 70 gay couples, one of which earned her a World Press Photo award for an image depicting an LGBT couple in bed.

Maika is a great example for how photography can touch the deepest hidden points of human soul, where shines love and compassion. In the struggles, people show “their love and how they survived, how they stand together”.




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