Shooting from the hip with a smart phone

April 09, 2017 - 09:00

Street photography often reveals humorous or heartwarming moments that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. A new exhibition presents a series of candid snaps taken with a phone.

Through the lens: Photographer Hải Thanh in Ninh Thuận province.
Viet Nam News

By Bạch Liên

For Hải Thanh, life is a search for beauty in the mundane. Over the last 20 years, the photographer has travelled across the country, snapping scenes of daily life that reveal a simple charm.

Recently, in early March, he impressed the public with a range of original street life pictures taken with his smart phone.

The exhibition, entitled The Diary, was held at the AIA Việt Nam Insurance Company’s Hà Nội office.

The exhibition consisted of more than 60 photographs chosen from thousands taken with a smart phone over the last four years.

Many visitors were impressed to see funny, and relatable, vignettes in Thanh’s images. His candid technique managed to capture scenes that viewers themselves may have seen somewhere, at sometime; the image of a patient and family member sharing a hospital bed in a hospital, or a man carrying a huge paper horse on his bike.

“The photos depict scenes I witnessed, beautiful places I visited, interesting people I met and spoke with,” Thanh said.

“I want to keep with me the souvenirs of those moments, those people, and I decided to make a diary through smart phone photos. I want let people know what I did during that time, how I lived, where I went.”

“Let’s just imagine this exhibition as a personal diary of my own journey, of what has become part of my life. The thoughts and feelings towards these images are all yours. For my part, these are simply an honest autobiography and genuine emotions from the bottom of my heart, now laid open to share with you guys.”

Cycle of life: A photo of a family on a bicycle. — Photo Hải Thanh

Graduated from the Industrial Fine Arts University, Thanh (was born Đỗ Thanh Hải in 1972) has become well-known, mostly thanks to his photography.

He captures the reality of life in Việt Nam. But in contrast with other photographers, he doesn’t focus on immense white sand dunes, terraced rice fields bathed in sunshine, the river at dusk… and other beautiful landscapes devoid of people.

For Thanh, life has always been about people, and the people in his photos are always on the move, always doing something.

For a working photographer, the smart phone has become a tool for taking images more efficiently than a professional camera.

“For me, the smart phone has become inseparable. Sometimes it has become closer than my professional camera. Because it is small and practical, and it put me at ease. When I take photos with a smart phone, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about composition or technique, instead I can focus on the content and the moment,” he said.  

Street photographer, lover of Hà Nội

Street photography, which is a genre that records everyday life in a public place, has become a wonderful tool that helps Thanh tells life stories with an abundance of humour, through his own view and experience. He likes getting as close to his subjects as possible, so he can touch their souls and patiently wait for a special moment to reveal itself.

Thanh is well known as a contemporary documentary photographer. He has been active in the national and international photography scene, including participating in Indochina Media Memorial Foundation workshops in 2007 and 2010, hosting personal exhibitions Life Stories (2016), On the Move (2008) and 24h (2010) in Việt Nam and France, joining group exhibitions This Day of change (2009) in Japan, and Blow-up (2010) in Cambodia. He has also participated in the series of exhibitions Mobilegraphy (2015), a part of the Everyday Project in New York and Istanbul.

A longtime lover of Hà Nội, Hải Thanh gets up early to take photos on the streets of the capital.  

For him, the perfect moment for street life photos in  Hà Nội is in the early morning.

“If you get up early, and get on the street with a camera in hand, you will see a Hà Nội that is totally different from later in the day, without the noise, smoke, and crowded streets.

“I am excited to see how one places changes throughout the day.”

Thanh believes that to take good street photos, one needs passion, patience, and a sense of observation.

“You can see different things at different moments in the same place. To make sure that you take an interesting photo, you need to come back to one place at several different times.”

Thanh has built up quite a following in Việt Nam.

 “I see a lot of joy in Hải Thanh’s street life photos. He documents life in a positive way,” said Vũ Thanh Tâm, an amateur photographer.

“I am not an expert in photography, some may say that there are more talented photographers than Thanh… But for me, as a person who simply looks at his photos, I see a unique charm that I don’t get from other Vietnamese photographers,” Tâm said.

“And many years later, we will look at those photos and read the captions explaining where and when they were taken. In that way we can relive a period of time in Việt Nam.” VNS

Quick trim: A photo of a hair salon in Hà Nội. — Photo Hải Thanh
Street spirit: A photo of a narrow alley in Hà Nội. — Photo Hải Thanh
Candid captures: A visitor looks at Hải Thanh’s street life photos on display at ’The Diary’ exhibition in March. — VNS Photo Bạch Liên