Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Heaven’s Gate under the sun

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A few weeks ago, I made my second visit to Ha Giang, the mountainous province in the far north of Vietnam, and spent a fantastic few days motorbiking through the region’s spectacular scenery. This was a slightly longer version of the trip I made in November; I wanted to give myself plenty of time for numerous photography stops, and to enjoy the drive without rushing.

The pictures in this post were taken on the first and last legs of the trip, between Ha Giang City and Yen Minh, taking in Quan Ba district and the mountain pass known as Heaven’s Gate. On my first trip, this whole stretch was obscured by clouds and rain, but fortunately the spring weather was much kinder, and I was able to see – and photograph – a lot more this time round. The green valleys and rice terraces of this part of the region are punctuated by limestone karsts, bizarre conical rocky growths that wouldn’t look out of place in a Lord of the Rings film, while towns and villages huddle in the plateaus and cling to the hillsides.

More pictures from Ha Giang coming soon.

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View of Tam Son town and the mountains known as the ‘Fairy Bosom’

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A good spot for a selfie

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Firewood in Nam Dam village

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Traffic

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Red River brick factories (III)

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These crumbling, dusty, ramshackle brick factories just outside Hanoi were one of my favourite photography destinations last year. As well as the striking colours and patterns, I hope that these pictures convey something of the resilience of the factory workers, and the fine balance between disorder and routine. I keep meaning to go back and shoot some more there. In the absence of new new pictures, here are some new old pictures from last autumn, which I had intended to post these a couple of months ago, only for them to slip through the net somehow.

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Flying the flag in Ha Giang City

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I’ve just come back from a week and a bit in the extraordinary Ha Giang province in the far north of Vietnam. This visit, my second, coincided with a holiday weekend, as Vietnam celebrated both Liberation Day (marking the anniversary of the liberation / fall of Saigon in 1975) and International Labour Day, meaning that streets and houses throughout the region were bedecked with flags. The picture above was taken in the late afternoon one day last week in Ha Giang City. These kids of course couldn’t care less about a war that was over before even their parents were born, and were just happy to be out on their bikes with their friends while the sun was shining. At this point, I could draw some clumsy parallel between Liberation Day and my own circumstances, since I am currently taking some long-term leave from my teaching job in Hanoi. There’s certainly nothing quite like riding a motorbike through the mountain roads of northern Vietnam to make a person feel free. I’m planning to go on more travels and take more photographs over the next couple of months. More pictures from Ha Giang province soon (or soon-ish – it will take me a while to go through all the pictures I took on this trip, but it’s a task I’m looking forward to).

Also while I was away, one of my recent posts from Bangkok was featured on WordPress’s Discover page. It’s always nice when my pictures get some extra attention, so thank you to the good people of WordPress, and welcome to those of you who are new to the blog.

April wanderings

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Sometimes when I take pictures, I have a particular project in mind, maybe a specific location or neighbourhood or a particular style of photograph. Other times, I just wander about randomly and take pictures of what or who I see. Recently, I’ve been doing the latter. I don’t think either approach is better or worse than the other; they’re both just a reflection of how I’m feeling at the time, how focused – or not – my mind is. So these are some pictures I’ve taken on the streets in Hanoi over the last month; no overall theme or story here, though I think some of them fit together quite nicely in twos or threes.

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Bangkok miscellany

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A collection of portraits, street scenes and details from my visit to Bangkok at the start of the year.

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Lunar new year decorations

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Wat Arun, my favourite temple in Bangkok

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Beware of falling elephants

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Chinatown

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Thailand is in a one year period of mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last year

Metal and charms in Bangkok

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Back in January of this year, I spent a few days in Bangkok. It was the Tet holiday, or lunar new year, here in Vietnam, which is always a good time to leave Hanoi in search of warmer weather. In Bangkok, I met up with my dad, who was visiting from the UK for a few days, having just been on holiday in Myanmar. We spent an agreeable few days being tourists, visiting the obligatory temples and treating ourselves to Thai cuisine. After Dad went back home, I had a few more days to wander around by myself.

One of my favourite parts of Bangkok is its Chinatown, the network of streets around Thanon Yaowaraat, where these pictures were taken. At the south-east end of Thanon Yaowarat, near Wat Traimit, there are a few streets of hardware stores, selling metal pipes, rods, tubes, girders and sprockets (probably). I always enjoy taking pictures in streets like this; I like the patterns. Not far away, there’s a streetside amulet market, where you can buy lucky charms and talismans. I think that these traders have been relocated from their old market near the Grand Palace.

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Red River brick factories (II)

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Drive north out of Hanoi over Thang Long bridge, turn left and follow the dyke road for a couple of miles, and you’ll come to a cluster of brick factories on the banks of the Red River. Last autumn, following the advice of a friend who knows that side of the river well, I made a few trips to this location, and began to try to document what I saw.

There are about a dozen factories at this site, separated by rows and rows of bricks, countless bricks drying in the sun. The pictures I took there combine some of my favourite things in photography: strong colours, especially the earthy tones of the bricks and the land, geometric patterns and, most importantly for me, the human element, people in their environment, leading their everyday lives, in this case, the tough, repetitive labour of producing staggering quantities of bricks in the autumn heat. My aim with these pictures is to show the reality of that demanding work without romanticising it, and without dehumanising the men and women who work there.

Last month, as I mentioned in my previous post, some of my pictures from this project were published in Word magazine here in Vietnam. In this post, I’m sharing some of the photographs from the series that didn’t make it into print.

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Red River brick factories (in Word magazine)

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I’m very happy to see some of my pictures in print this month. Word magazine has published some of my photographs of the brick factories on the Red River, just outside Hanoi. I’ll post some more pictures from this series soon, and write a little more about the location, which I got a little obsessed with back in the autumn, but in the meantime, here are the pages from the magazine. I enjoy sharing my pictures here on the blog, but there’s definitely something special about being in print. I’ll have to make sure it happens more often…

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