The street photographer should never make a habit of walking for too long down the wide avenues of a city.
It’s better to get lost in those little streets and alleyways because it’s often when you go off the beaten path that you get the best surprises.
This is especially true of Hanoi, where each winding lane you travel down leads to a wonderful discovery.
On this day, I was walking as usual around the center of Hanoi after having lunch. Every day, lunch break feels like the chance to stretch my legs and take off on an adventure equipped with my faithful camera.
Without any specific idea in mind, I take pictures of just about everything I see that calls out to me.
Hey! There’s a bike off to my right, click-click!
I look up and there are those infamous electrical wires overhead, click-click!
That’s when I leave the main road and head over to Pham Su Manh Street, where on certain days of the week there’s a small market.
That’s when it hits me: this man with such a photogenic look.
Without hesitation, I move over in his direction, smile, greet him and ask in Vietnamese if I can take his picture because I think he’s so handsome.
He seems surprised but he agrees to pose.
[PHOTO TIP = I approach him and then put him in one corner of the shot so I can also get the decor and the environment in the opposite corner. Here for example, there’s the street in the background and a vendor with her neck yoke, which help create the context for this photograph]
We laugh together: I’m thrilled because I think this photo turned out really well, and he is charmed by my enthusiasm!
I offer to give him a paper copy of the shot within the week.
Then he tells me he lives not far away and I walk with him to his house. He tells me that next time, just knock on his door and he’ll be there.
We remain there for a few minutes together chatting and I ask him the obvious questions: is he married? Does he have children? Where does his family live?
He doesn’t see his family very often… His son lives in Saigon, in the South.
I try to maintain a light tone, but I can sense his loneliness. It’s important to remember that in Vietnam, families are very close, and it’s rare for someone elderly to live alone without family around (one of my Vietnamese colleagues even told me that it is shameful to leave the elderly in one’s own family alone).
My impression was confirmed a few days later. I went back to give him the printed photo a few days later than planned because of how busy I was at work.
He had been expecting me and he had gotten worried that I would never come back.
I took his picture in front of his little house, and when a neighbor passed by, he smiled even harder, spoke up louder and told her that “a foreign friend had stopped by to see him”.
Sort of like he wanted to prove he wasn’t all alone in the world and that friends thought of him and came to visit from time to time…
Maïeva Voyage is a passionate photographer who discovered the joys of photography by complete accident 5 years ago when she got a gift that would change her life: that gift was a Reflex camera.
It was in Vietnam through the Photo Club of Hanoi that she developed her photographic techniques.
Since then she is constantly after her friends and family to take their picture, that is when she’s not dispensing advice on her photo tutorial blog, with its resolutely feminine and laid-back tone (especially sharing secrets she learned from friends or from her favorite photography authors).
Maïeva Voyage is our guest author for the month of July, 2014.