A few days in Bangkok on the way back to Vietnam from the UK. My idea was that this would be a kind of interlude, a blank space of time between saying my goodbyes at home and getting my life together in Saigon, with none of the emotional wrench of the former or the practical stresses of the latter. An opportunity to chill out for a short time; not that Bangkok is the most relaxing place in the world, but it provided the chance to escape life’s obligations for a while.
Also, and just as importantly, it was a chance to reacquaint myself with my camera. Ten months in the UK was a fairly fallow period for me photographically. I’ve got some nice pictures of friends and family to show for my time there, my niece and nephew especially, but I never felt the same urge to get out and about and make pictures that I feel when I’m away from home. They say that the best photographers can find good pictures in anything anywhere, and that’s probably true; but the rest of us need a little help, a little inspiration, and I wasn’t finding that inspiration in Tunbridge Wells, or even in London. Although I wasn’t taking many pictures back at home, I was reading a lot about photography, from Scott Kelby’s super practical – if slightly irritating – Lightroom manual to a scholarly tome on composition by Michael Freeman (both of which found their way into my 20kg luggage allowance, at the expense of frivolities such as underwear and toiletries). I also spent a lot of time reappraising my old pictures, trying to be brutally honest with myself about which ones worked and which didn’t, reworking some old favourites, trying to make them as good as they could be. The results can be seen on my homepage; you be the judge, I can’t look at them any more.
So I felt ready to take on Bangkok, photographically. I set myself a challenge. For the ten days I was there, I would shoot only using my 50mm lens, with no cropping later, and only in black and white. Why 50mm? I like the simplicity of it; what you see with the naked eye is broadly what you get through the viewfinder. I wanted to force myself to think about composition, rather than just relying on my zoom. And for such a simple lens, it’s incredibly versatile, suitable for portraits, street scenes, details, abstracts, almost anything. Why black and white? I wanted to avoid the cliches and concentrate on textures, contrast, and light and shade. I also had an idea about photographing statues, potentially a very boring subject for a photograph, as if they were people, using a shallow depth of field and focusing on the eyes.
Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the picture above is in colour. What can I say? There was just too much colour to ignore. The gold of temples, the orange of monks’ robes, the pink red yellow green of taxis. I abandoned the black and white thing after a couple of days, although there are a number of monochrome images that I’m very pleased with. I stuck with the 50mm rule though, which was no hardship.
I love taking portrait pictures, and I like the way 50mm lets you include plenty of background, giving context while keeping a human subject.
As well as the city’s people, I also wanted to capture details…
… street scenes…
… and some more people.
There were many things I wanted to do while in Bangkok: buy t-shirts, nap after lunch, eat as much Thai curry as my body could handle, while away afternoons reading in cafes, wander the streets with no clear destination in mind, and get more of a feel for the city than I’d managed on my two brief previous visits, five years and ten years ago. I did all of this, I had my little oasis of calm, Bangkok-style, and I took a lot of pictures, some of which I’m happy with. I won’t leave it another five years before my next visit.