Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘documentary’

Metallurgy

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There are a lot of pagodas in Yangon. A lot. And someone has to do all that skillful carving, shaping, welding and engraving. In the city’s Kyeemyindaing neighbourhhood last March, I came across a cluster of workshops where a lot of these ornate decorations are made.

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A song of ice and fish

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This time last year, I made a couple of visits to Nyaung Tan jetty, a small but thriving fishing port on Pazundaung Creek, near where I live in Yangon. Huge amounts of fish pass through here every day. Work seems to be divided along gender lines – women sort fish into coloured plastic baskets, while men feed huge blocks of ice into crushing machines.

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I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who responded to my last post. Your support means a lot to me. I hope to be posting more regularly again from now on, and may even have some more recent pictures to share before too long.

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Jakarta | Chinese medicine

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Whenever I visit other big south-east Asian cities, I always seem to end up in Chinatown. Bangkok, Yangon, Kuala Lumpur, and now Jakarta. It’s not just the food. These districts always seem to have lots going on, an energy and character of their own.

In Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown, there are a number of traditional herbalist shops, selling specially prepared packages of dried or powdered herbs, designed to cure all manner of ailments, to those who don’t trust or can’t afford conventional medicine.

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Meo Vac market (part 3)

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This final set of pictures from Meo Vac market focuses on another aspect of this hectic, sprawling weekly gathering in the mountains of northern Vietnam: clothes and shoes. Just inside the covered area of the market, seamstresses and seamsters (if that’s a word) hunched over old pedal-operated sewing machines, making clothes to order from material bought at stalls nearby. Elsewhere, shoppers haggled over traditional skirts, knock-off jeans and plastic shoes.

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Meo Vac market (part 2)

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While cows and pigs are being traded outside under the early morning sun, the inside area of Meo Vac market is full of activity of a different kind. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Sunday market gets going very early in the morning; this means that there are hundreds of people all needing breakfast. The centre of the market is a huge covered area, much of it taken up by dozens of kitchens where traders and customers take a break from market business to enjoy a bowl of noodles.

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While live animals are bought and sold outside, there is freshly butchered meat available inside.

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Meo Vac market (part 1)

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One of the things I most wanted to do on this last trip to Ha Giang was to visit the Sunday morning market in Meo Vac. I planned the whole trip so that I would reach Meo Vac on a Saturday afternoon, and be ready for an early start the next day. Even though I got to the market before six, it was already busy, as numerous villagers arrived in town, some by truck, some by motorbike and some on foot, but all with goods to sell.

There are countless regular markets throughout the province. Some are weekly while some, confusingly, are held every six days. Some are in large-ish towns like Meo Vac or Dong Van, some in tiny villages. These markets are an essential part of life in Ha Giang. They’re where town and country meet, as farmers from different villages and ethnic groups gather together to trade with each other and the people of the towns. It’s not all business of course – the market has an important social function, and there was plenty of gossiping, flirting and boozing going on too.

This market was chaotic, crowded, smelly, utterly engrossing and a little overwhelming. In photography terms, it was a complete change of pace from the preceding few days, when I’d been mainly photographing landscapes. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people and animals, by rapid movement and fleeting moments. There were potential pictures everywhere, and there were times when it was difficult to know where to turn. For the most part, the market people were far too busy going about their business to concern themselves with the tall, clumsy photographer in their midst. I decided to shoot in more of a documentary style – mostly up close with wide angles, observing and recording rather than interacting, though I did occasionally engage with people for a few of my customary portraits.

Meo Vac market is mainly known as a livestock market, and there were plenty of worried looking cows, pigs and chickens changing hands. There was a lot more going on besides – with meat, fabric, clothes, shoes, household goods, moonshine, and all sorts of other things also being bought and sold – but all that will have to wait until a later post, as this series is all about the animals.

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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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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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