First steps into documentary photography

i’ve learned a great deal from John’s posts. They are written clearly & communicate a great deal on how we can approach photography not just technically, but also philosophically.
John asks searching questions about the photographer’s role in society, which i find essential & displays his consideration for the subject he photographs; especially important with tourists just clicking away at locals without a second thought for how locals may feel about it— i myself in my guesthouse get it: they see a white guy cooking their breakfast & photograph me without asking & i’m actually not cool with them doing this.
John’s photography is also first rate.


I recently returned to Vietnam for three weeks to further two projects I’ve been working on since 2012. It felt like coming home.

The projects are on fishing communities and life around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Here I want to reflect on the former and share some new images.

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Filling in the blanks— a poem about Kim Yeong Gap (김영갑) the coda

hope something of the spirit of the man you absorbed from these lines that tried to bring him back from the dead


his dream

count the tallest trees with only Latin
& Korean names, the oreums feminine contours
involuntarily on fingers & toes
then follow the pheasant track stars through Halla’s forests
into dreams stacked like scoria stupas
& Jeju shaped like a woman sat atop
ready to be fondled & fucked in the gallery after hours
a gallery filled with masterpieces by an old man
—she hides any sickness sown
in the inner lining of her simple dress
sweeps it off with brushstroke fingertips
from along the aquiline face blushed
& dumbstruck with wet clay soft as sobs

—he never woke up.

& for now

i’m glad you died so spared from witnessing
the whittling of the pure unblemished hills you traipsed
around with camera mounted on its tripod slung over your shoulder
no border walls or structures interfering with your pace.

Jeju became much changed now populated with resorts the rich
Chinese business men build with austere gloom
the roads slick as acryl humming with white hire cars
ferrying air conditioned tourists poking telephones

out the window to capture proof they weren’t at work or home
on their merry way to family theme parks, a neon ugly fright
—or hassle Haenyo whose foraging waters became too polluted to fish
& makes them dizzy sick & poorer— but it’s the tourists’ right, right?

—i don’t know who i’m talking to.

clay figures

they’re you aren’t they, as the Lou Gehrig’s
advanced the slow collapse of neurons
all muscles withered to the texture of month old persimmon
until you atrophied into a twitching lump of flesh
a uniform heaviness pummeled by gravity
quietly dismantling under your own mass?

the tourists think them cute
something like the funny cartoon
monsters their children watch on TV
but i’ve learned with sense the truth
—your moods in clay tumescence
masks for the idea of you

: the meditator holy man flummoxed skeptic
outlier philosophically without a clue that anything means
patient observer expert in waiting sick man mind
at odds with a degenerating body worn like an old coat full of shells & rocks.

kneaded the atrophy out the tips
of finger & thumb, with kinetic shift
of palms & foresight
rid the body of rotting energy
transmigrated to a clay figure
that took the kiln blast
suffered & appeared from the flames
with a face then put in the weather
to heal up

— it didn’t work
but with the very least you tried
the end & the beginning

let this poem not end in dirt
where all should end, but where all
began— in front of the butchering sea
its flensed buttons of foam
dense as fingernails flung out the hand
of wind to spatter my embarrassed cheek
just the right distance from
death & creation