I saw a curious post on my friend Mai Tran’s social feed: “Because of my uninteresting days recently, I’ve decided to make an over-exciting Saturday night for myself and friends with my camera, exploring Saigon at night —feeling excited.”
It was an unusual plan and it sparked my interest — I sent her a message asking to tag along. Two days later she posted a flier for the next evening’s outing which she named “A Night Out Around Saigon”. It was an ambitious schedule; starting at 11pm and going until 6am the next morning, 7am if you included the post event breakfast of Phở.
Unlike the typical alchohol-fueled night out, this was to be a caffeine-fueled photographic adventure that would forge new friendships. Four people showed up to participate: Mai Trần — a graphic designer and the organizer of the event, Reggie Doan — a young but very talented photographer, Kirsty Denison — an aspiring documentary film maker, and me.
We actually ended up spending more time engaged in conversations at our various way points rather than taking photographs, but photographs were taken. I tried my best to document the evening by filming our activities and editing them into this video:
Interview with Mai Trần
It was just a spontaneous idea of mine after suffering a long boring week. I then decided to do something I’ve never done before: going out with my friends while the city is sleeping to explore it.
I was so excited about the trip, and the flier was made so my friends would know the schedule, plans and places we will visit. At first it was just a simple, boring text, then my “designer spirit” started kicking in I decided to make it look better, more eye-catching! (at least to me).
My goals were to go explore the city at night with my friends, sharing my feelings with them. And even though we didn’t stick to the plan (we skipped two places), I was absolutely satisfied with what we did that night.
I love the curiosity about what I just photographed. You cannot just review your photos right at the scene of the crime! and especially I love to count how many shots I took successfully when the roll gets developed. The third reason is that the nice colour tones produced by the film. Each sort of film, analogue camera, and manual focus lenses produces different tones, contrast, textures. I really enjoy it when I try to measure the light and focus myself without using any light metering.
Film photography teaches me about patience and carefulness because each roll of 35mm film normally has 36 or 39 shots, once you decide to click you cannot just delete it and take another shot like digital photography. Every click is a valuable moment. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
Actually there is no relationship between what I try to do with photography and graphic design. With film photography, sometimes it is spontaneous, natural, and a bit personal. But with graphic design, you have to meet the client’s needs.
I don’t have any certificate in graphic design, but I’m happy when I learn something new on my own. I often search Pinterest for the works of other graphic designers; when I find something inspiring I will try to figure out how they did it and search for lessons on the internet.
“I want to make something more clear.”
In Ho Chi Minh City, or in Vietnam, graphic design isn’t very good. It’s not very clear. There are many colors and many elements in one piece of work. I don’t like it — I want to make something more clear.
It’s very noisy and there are many people who don’t know me. Because in the North your neighbors want to know more about you and they will talk about you. Even though I’ve been living in the same neighborhood for several years here in Ho Chi Minh City, my neighbors don’t know about me.
I live here alone, so even though there are many people, sometimes it can be a lonely place to be.
My plan is to go to Germany so I can study more about graphic design and photography and of course, to travel around Europe!!!
Our best shots from the night
Sometimes I hear people say “Saigon is boring”. People say “there are no art exhibits” or other cultural activities. It’s true that there is not as many in-your-face entertainment or cultural outings compared to some other world class cities, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing going on. You simply need to dig a little deeper — and if you still can’t find something then the onus is on you to start something. It doesn’t have to be something big, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you don’t take some initiative then it will never be. So get moving, grab a friend, do something, anything, and before you know it you’re having fun! You are the scene.