Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts tagged ‘thailand’

Bangkok interludes (II)

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Some more pictures from my visa run wanderings around Bangkok last year. I’m not sure I could live there, but I always enjoy spending time in Bangkok; there’s always something new to discover, and now familiar places that are worth revisiting.

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Bangkok interludes (I)

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One of the features of expat life in Myanmar is the visa run. Every ten weeks (or longer if you’re lucky and your employer has sprung for a longer term visa) you have to leave the country and pick up a new ten-week business visa at the airport on your return. This means that over the last year and a half of living in Yangon, I’ve made a number of short trips to Bangkok. It doesn’t have to be Bangkok of course, but it’s just a short, cheap flight away, and there are a number of things about the Thai capital that appeal after spending time in Yangon, such as 24-hour electricity, excellent food and lack of feral street dogs. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed living in Yangon; but a change of scene is always welcome, and I’ve appreciated these Bangkok interludes, these little slices of time when I can step away from my everyday life and see things a little differently.

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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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A year (and a bit) at 35mm

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(Hanoi, 2014-5)

Since I came back to Hanoi in September 2013, I’ve been shooting only with a 35mm prime lens. I wanted to test myself by limiting my camera to one focal length, 35mm, for an indefinite period of time. I like to set myself challenges or projects occasionally, whether it’s sticking to one lens for a particular trip, shooting in black and white for a while, or photographing a specific neighbourhood. It helps me to think about things in a different way and to take pictures that I otherwise wouldn’t have taken.

Having spent four months mostly using my zoom lens while travelling down the Mekong in the summer of 2013, I felt like it was time to do something different by the time I came back to Hanoi. I’m proud of the pictures that I took on that trip, and some of my favourites are environmental portraits, wide angle pictures that show a person in context. These pictures were often taken at around the 35mm mark on my zoom, and it was largely these pictures that prompted me to invest in a 35mm prime.

The 35mm is perfect for these environmental portraits, where you see a person in their everyday surroundings, such as a market stall or cafe. I’ve taken a lot of this sort of picture over the last year or so, as I’m always inclined to take portraits, whatever lens I’m using. When searching for this kind of picture, I’m not just looking for an interesting face, but also for a complementary background, one that either says something about the subject’s life or one that simply has an interesting colour or texture. With a 35mm lens, the image can be about the place, not just the face.

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(Hanoi, 2013-4)

There’s plenty of not-very-interesting discussion online about what exactly constitutes a standard or normal lens, and which focal length most closely matches what the human eye sees. I don’t want to join this debate, but I will say that, for me, a 35mm lens on a full-frame SLR gives a very natural field of view. It’s wide, but not too wide; you can get close to your subject, and still include plenty of background, without any of the distortion that is sometimes produced by wider lenses. It’s also a very versatile lens, good for photographing street scenes, details and patterns, as well as the portraits that I most like to take.

From a practical point of view, the 35mm – or any other physically small prime – is well-suited to city shooting. I love to take street portraits in Hanoi, and I always try to engage a little with the people I photograph; I like to get physically close to the person whose portrait I’m taking, without invading their personal space. While my standard zoom lens, a big, serious-looking 24-70mm, can be quite intimidating for the person at the other end, the 35mm is smaller and friendlier. This is especially useful in Hanoi, where people are often understandably wary of camera-wielding strangers.

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(Bangkok, February 2014)

I don’t often write about the technical or practical side of photography on here, as I prefer to show the pictures themselves, rather than dwell on the processes behind them. This site isn’t intended to be a “how to” site; the last thing the internet needs is another self-appointed photography expert. I’ve also deliberately avoided mentioning specific brands and models in this post, as it’s certainly not intended to be a product review; but for the benefit of those who are interested (and I know that I’m always interested in what cameras and lenses other people are using), these pictures were all taken with a Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens on a Canon 5D mk I.

Now it’s time to move on. Over the last week or so, I’ve started using my 85mm lens again, to take some tightly framed head and shoulders portraits (coming soon to the blog), and next month I’ll be taking my standard zoom with me when I go away for the Tet holiday. I stuck with my self-imposed 35mm challenge for a lot longer than I expected, and it’s been a rewarding experience, but now it’s time for a change.

Downriver

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My photobook, Downriver, is still available through blurb.co.uk.

In the summer of 2013, I spent four months following the Mekong river through south-east Asia. From the Xishuangbanna region in China’s Yunnan province, I travelled into northern Laos, crossed the river for a brief visit to Thailand, then continued down through the southern tail of Laos and into eastern Cambodia, before finishing my journey in the Mekong delta region in southern Vietnam. The book is a collection of my photographs and thoughts from the trip.

The 136 page book is available as an 8×10 in softcover book or as a PDF download. Click here to order or to see a limited preview.

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New photobook: Downriver

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Five countries, four months, one river.

In the summer of 2013, I spent four months following the Mekong river through south-east Asia. From the Xishuangbanna region in China’s Yunnan province, I travelled into northern Laos (making my apologies to Burma), crossed the river for a brief visit to Thailand, then continued down through the southern tail of Laos and into eastern Cambodia, before finishing my journey in the Mekong delta region in southern Vietnam. This book is a collection of my photographs and thoughts from the trip.

The 136 page book is available as an 8×10 in softcover book or as a PDF download. Click here to order or to see a limited preview.