The Alley: Night Street Photography in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by Wouter Vanhees

Wouter Vanhees: Although I live in Hanoi, I travel to Ho Chi Minh City regularly for work. At night, when my meetings and work stuff is finished, I like to explore the inner city to do street photography with my Ricoh GR2.

During one of these walks in early 2018, I stumbled upon a small street with the usual abundance of street food restaurants, small houses with open front doors for everyone to catch a glimpse inside and simple grocery shops. Even though there are thousands of similar streets and alleys all over the city, this particular one’s location instantly struck me.

Passing through a narrow lane off of one of the main roads, fenced off to secure some surrounding construction sites, I immediately noticed that the alley is sandwiched between two huge real estate projects. These could be seen as symbols of Vietnam’s recent economic development and increasing prosperity, its luxury apartments, upscale dining options and shopping malls catering to Ho Chi Minh City’s upcoming middle-class. Yet in the middle of all of this, there is this small, local alley, which seems to be worlds away from all the modernity surrounding it.

When I discovered the alley that evening, I started making photos, and I found myself unable to stop. I went back there several times over a period of about 9 months, and this edited series is the result.

Lessons learned / tips:

  1. Whenever/wherever you’re traveling: always take a camera with you! You never know what you might encounter.
  2. For me the Ricoh GR2 is perfect for this kind of situation: it’s small enough not to get in the way, yet it’s good enough to get excellent results. It’s nimble size also doesn’t shout ‘PHOTOGRAPHER!!’, so people were always very relaxed around it. If anything, they were interested in what I was trying to shoot.
  3. I found this alley by sheer coincidence, having decided to walk into the opposite direction of where I’d usually go, not knowing where I would end up or what I would find. So: explore different paths. Worst thing that can happen is coming home without any interesting photos (although that chance is probably very slim)
  4. When you think you’re onto something: persevere. Explore a subject, location, situation,… from different angles and over a longer period of time. I was lucky enough to have the chance to go back to this place several times with intervals of weeks or sometimes even months. This gave me the opportunity to get familiar with the location, while I was still able to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes during each visit.

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