I’m currently at the boarding gate from Sydney>Ho Chi Minh>Hanoi, and I have a few minutes to reflect on my experiences in Sydney, Australia.
One of the things I was most excited for visiting Sydney was hanging out with my good friend Greg Marsden (known as ‘hohum’ online). He is one of those guys who I’ve known for at least 4 years (he did my workshop 4 years ago, and every time I visit Sydney I stay with him).
He is one of the most down-to-earth, talented, and cool dudes I know. His work is fantastic, and he has exhibited his color street work in Sydney.
The thing I appreciate most about being with him is how our conversations are effortless. We can talk for hours on end about philosophy, life, ambition, social media, and anything on our minds. We don’t filter what we say to one another — and I feel like he treats me like a brother and soulmate.
Another cool lesson I learned from him: a street photographer should track his/her progress not in terms of how many good photos he/she makes. Rather, a street photographer should track how many miles/kilometers they walk.
For example, for his recent exhibition for around 12-14 photos, he walked for close to 5,000 kilometers (according to his smartphone tracker) for around 4 years. He has been feeling like he hasn’t been making good photos lately, but I reminded him — just keep walking.
Walking is truly the lifeblood of a photographer.
Thank you Greg for such an amazing time in Sydney — I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you. I love you like a brother — thank you for all the guidance, love, and insights you’ve given me the last few days (felt more like a few weeks).
Melbourne vs Sydney
Many people are curious the difference between Melbourne and Sydney. I would say that Melbourne has the more SF-bay area vibe, with a European feel. People are relaxed, chill, but can also go full-speed in their careers if they choose.
Sydney feels more of a NYC meets LA. The city has a lot taller buildings, more hustle and bustle, and finance. The city pumps with more energy and vigor, and has more epic light. If you look at the high-contrast work of Trent Parke, you can see what I mean.
Sydney folk — I’m sorry to say that it is true— the coffee in Melbourne is better. And Melbourne does have more trendy places to eat.
However Sydney has some fantastic coffee shops as well (although the quality isn’t as consistent as Melbourne). One of my favorite places to go with Greg was “Room 10” — a small little alleyway cafe in Kings Cross (where Greg lives). It is cozy, we chill on tiny metal chairs in the alley, and the service is fantastic.
Shooting in Sydney
I loved shooting in Sydney. I found myself shooting fewer street portraits (what I focused in on Melbourne), and more candid shooting. The light in Sydney is super-epic, with long shadows, and the tall buildings, skyscrapers, and perhaps the location of Sydney on the equator helps.
I shot all my photos on a Ricoh GR II camera, P mode, ISO 800, center-point autofocus and the key was to set my minus-exposure compensation to -1 or -1 1/3. This helped me get the deep blacks, and my subjects well exposed.
Sydney is a fantastic city to walk. There is so much energy, bustle, and interesting street scenes that are happening. Most of our shooting was in the downtown central business district — and also most of our time was spent on street corners, waiting for the subjects to come to us.
Shooting in Sydney reminds me of shooting in NYC — with the wide streets, the energy of the people on the streets, all the suits, as well as the tall buildings. Except the light in Sydney is better.
If you’re passionate about street photography, lights, and shadows — definitely visit Sydney for shooting.
Large format portrait
Probably one of the most fun things I did while in Sydney was getting a large-format 8×10 portrait shot of me from my friend Hugo Sharp. It was nice being on the other side of the camera, and the chance to spend a lot of time for 1-2 photos really made me appreciate the magic of photography even more.
It blows me away how Richard Avedon shot so many of these portraits in his project “In the American West.” It really gives you an opportunity to build a rapport with your subject, and the intimacy is incredible.
Being away from Cindy
This trip I was away from Cindy for 2 weeks. In the beginning, it was really tough. But as time went on, it was easier (for both of us). I spent most of my time shooting and hanging out with Greg and my friends (as well as doing the workshop), while Cindy focused on doing her research, spending time with her friends, also reflecting and meditating.
I think what I appreciate about being away from Cindy is that it helps us build our independence. I like the Kahlil Gibran quote that in marriage — each partner should be able to stand independently, yet hold up a temple together (like two columns). I feel that sometimes I get too dependent on Cindy — so I appreciate the time apart to help me think more independently, to live at my own cadence, and to also give Cindy her space.
However having said that, I am overjoyed to be with Cindy again. 2 weeks is about the sweet spot. I think any more time than that would be too difficult. I don’t believe in extended long-distance relationships. I truly believe that we need physical intimacy as well as emotional intimacy.
But thank God for video calling — I was able to call her a few times. Even seeing her face brings me so much joy and happiness, instead of just hearing her voice. Technology has done an incredible job of helping families stay closer together, even when we are physically apart.
I can’t wait until I hold Cindy in my arms, catch up about our adventures, and eat some delicious Vietnamese food (I’m excited to have some good Bun Cha).
Furthermore, I am excited to start practicing my Vietnamese again. I was making great progress while in Vietnam (I can now make small talk with a taxi driver, or make simple jokes that people laugh at). But after 2 weeks, I am losing my touch. I need to get on the bus again.
Plans in Vietnam
I have no idea what I’m going to focus on while in Vietnam. Maybe more shooting, reading, writing, meditating, or even more exciting — printing and publishing. Both printing my photos, as well as text and information.
I have a problem with digital media. There is always a nagging feeling of “incompleteness.” I publish a photo to my website, blog, or social media — and it doesn’t feel “complete.” I want my photos and words to exist in physical space— in atoms. I love the experience of looking at photo books, to feel the texture of the paper, and the emotion of the soul of the photographer.
Keep posted— there will be tons of great stuff coming out from Hanoi soon from Haptic Industries.
Sydney Workshop Recap
Oh man, after the last two weekends in Australia (workshops in Melbourne and Sydney) — I feel re-energized. I absolutely love teaching workshops — I feel that I get so much out of the students. Their energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to learn is so refreshing and eye-opening. It helps me have “beginner’s mind” again, and not to get trapped in thinking that I know everything.
Teaching is always a humbling experience— you learn as you teach. Not only that, but I feel that over the years, I’ve just become a better instructor. I find myself less pushy, and more understanding. I’m better at time-management. I know when the students are feeling bored or restless, and when to move on the conversation or lecture.
I’ve learned that it is better to have less classroom time, and more time on the streets doing one on one’s. I’ve also learned the importance of building a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
Dear students from my past Sydney and Melbourne workshop, I have so much love for you guys. Thank you for an incredible last two weekends. I’m excited to come back to Hanoi to get back to some serious blogging, but you remind me of how beautiful, empowering, and exciting street photography (in person) can be.
You can see all the student photos below. Also if you want to go on a trip of a lifetime, don’t miss out on my Hanoi to Sapa Travel Street Photography Experience (Feb 8-13, 2017).
Until next time
I’m excited to get down and dirty, to do more blog posts, meditations, and learning Vietnamese. Thank you so much for all the love and support — none of this would be possible without you.