Losing my mojo in Hanoi and finding it with the chestnut lady

Air travel does funny things to your psyche, you’re suddenly and artificially parachuted into different worlds with no time for the gradual adjustment that overland journeys allow, often in a state of sleep deprived disorientation. Hanoi was a particularly mad, chaotic, and stiflingly humid cauldron to land in, and it took me a while to find my photographic mojo.

©ClareRowntreeXF14mmF2.8 RX-E1FUJIFILM-4©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-17©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-5

The people struck me as hard-edged, and the traumas of their recent history and hardship of their lives seemed palpable on the streets. I took a few shots, but felt a bit disconnected.

©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-14 ©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-18 ©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-16©ClareRowntreeXF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OISX-E1FUJIFILM©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-8 ©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-10

I tried asking one or two people if I could take their photos and got rebuffed, which doesn’t normally happen, and I found myself withdrawing into the safety of photographing inanimate objects and scenes shot from the back or above, avoiding the need for eye contact.

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Quite fun for a while, but not really what I was after. Then I came across a lady sitting on the pavement, peeling and selling chestnuts, who had a kind looking face. I put my fear of refusal to one side, crouched down beside her, started trying out my freshly learnt pigeon Vietnamese, and asked if I could take a photo. She came back at me with a lovely gentle smile. It felt like the first moment of warmth I’d felt since arriving in Vietnam.

©ClareRowntreeXF14mmF2.8 RX-E1FUJIFILMI bought some chestnuts and watched her working for a while and showed her the photos I’d taken on the back of the camera. She smiled again and thanked me.

©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-3 ©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-2My Mojo was restored. With my newly refreshed confidence, I tried again with a lady I’d spotted, sitting reading the paper.

©ClareRowntreeXF14mmF2.8 RX-E1FUJIFILM-3

She too was lovely, and happy to be photographed, thanking me profusely afterwards, which I must admit I always find a bit odd !

©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-7That one smile from the chestnut lady was all that it had taken. Asking to take a stranger’s portrait is a bit like riding a horse. They sense when you’re frightened. As soon as I’d had one good experience, my approach must have subtly changed as I suddenly started to get much more positive responses, and started to get the photos I had wanted, and experience some real and warm human contact in this frenetic steaming city that had seemed so hostile and alien at first

©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-6

©ClareRowntreeXF14mmF2.8 RX-E1FUJIFILM-2©ClareRowntreeXF56mmF1.2 RX-E1FUJIFILM-4©ClareRowntreeXF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OISX-E1FUJIFILM-2

Categories: VietnamTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. It’s a really nice post, great shots so inspiring, really nice indeed 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such lovely photos! Brings back memories of my time in Vietnam!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful photography! Humans need warmth to flourish for sure! Happy safe travels 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You have made me fall in love with Vietnam through your photos. lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really like this post 🙂 I’m always a bit nervous to ask people for photos, do you have any tips on how to go about it?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful Clare, yes it can be really confronting in Vietnam, however like you asking does help, also walking around on ones own to me is by far the best. Well done. Barb xx


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