Visiting Hue as a photographer is always a pleasure. Even in this modern age, Hue, to me, represents the very epitome of Vietnamese culture. Somehow, amidst all the chaos of development that has so encroached Vietnam, Hue remains true to itself. One can wander the streets of the old city and of course the Citadel and the tombs of the Nguyen Emperors and be transformed into a time of spirituality and timeless history and culture. Little has changed since my first visit well over sixteen years ago now, or at the very least they have maintained the city’s harmony with its nature and its history. It hasn’t (thankfully) been transformed into a theme park attraction such as Hoi An and many other more frequented tourist destinations.
I once read in a National Geographic travel article that when the sun shines in Hue (and Hue is infamous for its foul weather) there is no finer place to be in Vietnam and I believe that to be true. Hue maintains its soul and its place of importance in Vietnam’s history and I, for one, can only find solace in that regard. Lets hope it stays that way.
I came to Hue this time, in summer, with one simple goal in mind – to add images to the library. No real focus, no specific target or project, just a general selection in, hopefully, good light. That, of course, all changed 24 hours prior to my arrival when I created a concept of photographing a typical Hue girl, famed for their ‘ao dai’ (Vietnam’s long flowing tunic) inside the Imperial Citadel. I had always felt the beautifully restored (and some derelict) structures here would provide a wonderful backdrop to photograph. Rather than photograph buildings alone I looked for a human element to bring them alive. The girl in ‘ao dai’ provided that element.
The Citadel opens its doors to visitors at 7am, hence I needed prior access to shoot without the threat of onlookers. I entered at 6.30am when the light was strikingly warm and glowing off the red lacquered roofs and doors of the Citadel buildings. I positioned my model in what I wanted to be simple and natural poses and got to work. She had brought several changes of costume with her to account for the changes in background textures and colour that I had envisaged; the white ao dai being the most striking against a saturated red and yellow doorway and the more formal yellow of a Hue courtesan from the Nguyen dynasty being more appropriate to reflect the past glamour and style of the monarchy reign.
Crowds of onlookers did start to appear by 9am by which time I was winding down and feeling the heat from the sweltering sun.
It wasn’t all about girls in ‘ao dai’ though (!) I did manage to shoot other material whilst I was there, although my time was too short for my liking. The old man image at the bottom with the umbrella couldn’t be more at odds with the other material I took but I particularly like this one, in part as it was taken at an impromptu stop in an outer village and I stalked the man down the road until he stopped for a chat, relaxing himself enough so I could take a candid shot. It is at times like these that making the effort is always rewarding.
I ended up taking quite a number of images with the intention of use as full page brochure of magazine spreads. It is all too easy for a photographer to forget about the space in the corners and upper and lower areas of an image but it is precisely this space that allows text and other graphics or words to be placed in an attractive and eye catching manner, all the while not detracting from the power of the photograph itself. A couple of these shots below illustrate just that.
I hope you enjoy the images presented here.
Click on thumbnails to see further images from this series
Images from the photo assignment at the Imperial Citadel