Colors of Hoi An — A Photo Essay with Stories

Focusing on the Colors of Hoi An

With a unique Hoi An Pho­tog­ra­phy project, Emmy Award-win­ning artist Alden Ander­son seeks to high­light the bold col­ors of Hoi An, Viet­nam, con­trast­ed with the dai­ly life of the locals in his col­lec­tion “Col­ors of Hoi An”.

Alden has always had a fond­ness for ancient build­ings and struc­tures whether they are thou­sands of years old, or in the case of Hoi An sev­er­al hun­dred. “There is so much his­to­ry in the walls of Hoi An. If you look close­ly in some areas you can even see old Chi­nese char­ac­ters worn with time. Lit­tle his­tor­i­cal gems hid­ing in plain sight. There’s always some­thing new to dis­cov­er in Hoi An” he says.

Hoi An — The Yellow City

One of the beau­ti­ful things about Hoi An is the bold yel­low col­or of most of the build­ings. Because of this, it has been nick­named “The Yel­low City”. Add to that yel­low a hand­ful of blue win­dows and vibrant blos­soms and the col­ors real­ly pop.”


Hoi An — The People

But it wasn’t just the build­ings that inter­est­ed him, he also want­ed to high­light the peo­ple of Hoi An. “Hoi An is pret­ty well known around the world for the beau­ty of the old build­ings, the Japan­ese Bridge, and the col­or­ful lanterns. How­ev­er, it is the peo­ple of Hoi An that real­ly bring the city to life and add to its charm.”

With ‘Col­ors of Hoi An’ I want­ed to focus on the peo­ple who live and work in the Old Town, jux­ta­posed with the vibrant col­ors” he added. “But also to take it one step fur­ther and learn about the peo­ple of Hoi An.”

I often won­der about the peo­ple going about their day, and I want to get to know them. I feel that my pho­tographs are incom­plete with­out learn­ing about the peo­ple in them.”

It was with this desire that Alden set out with his part­ner Trinh, to locate the peo­ple he pho­tographed. “Part of the ‘Col­ors of Hoi An’ pho­tog­ra­phy project is to find the peo­ple in the pho­tos and to learn who they are, a bit about their lives.” But it isn’t always easy locat­ing peo­ple again as he explains. “If I make some­one’s por­trait in their home, it’s easy enough to return to their house and give them a pho­to or just vis­it them again, get to know them more. For ‘Col­ors of Hoi An’, how­ev­er, it’s dif­fer­ent. The major­i­ty of these pho­tos are tak­en as can­did street photography.”


Hoi An Old town morning reflection

Reflec­tion of Hoi An in the Thu Bon Riv­er on a calm morning.

Some­times a per­son is rid­ing quick­ly by on a bicy­cle. One can’t just stop every­one and talk to them. So find­ing the peo­ple again becomes a bit of a project unto itself.”

At one point we were try­ing to locate a fish­er­man and his wife, but we could­n’t see their faces in the pho­to. For days on end, we drove around Hoi An ask­ing count­less peo­ple if they rec­og­nized the boat in the pho­to we print­ed. We prob­a­bly vis­it­ed every fish­ing vil­lage in the greater Hoi An area over the course of 4 days. Then one after­noon we got a promis­ing lead from some­one who rec­og­nized the boat. We found the man and gave him his print­ed pho­to, it was a pret­ty amaz­ing moment!”

When we do even­tu­al­ly find the peo­ple from the pho­to­graph we’ll spend some time with them, get to know them, and learn about their life. It brings more mean­ing to the pho­tos for me. I look at the pho­to and think about that per­son and their sto­ry. The whole rea­son I got back into pho­tog­ra­phy is that I was curi­ous about peo­ple and their sto­ries as I trav­eled. So the sto­ries of the peo­ple are just as impor­tant, or per­haps even more so, than the pho­tos themselves.”

Not all of the pho­tos have the atten­dant sto­ries yet. “It’s an ongo­ing process” he explains. “I’m con­stant­ly pho­tograph­ing new peo­ple and scenes around Hoi An, all while keep­ing an eye out for peo­ple we’d like to get to know from past photos. ”

Hoi An Yellow Wall Reflection

Reflec­tion on the way to the mar­ket in Hoi An Ancient Town.

Hoi An Vietnam Morning Reflection

Rid­ing to the mar­ket in Hoi An.

Hoi An Morning Yellow Blue

Ear­ly morn­ing in Hoi An Ancient Town.

About Alden & Trinh


Alden had been work­ing in Hol­ly­wood for 10 years when he decid­ed to trav­el the world to learn about peo­ple and cul­tures from dif­fer­ent coun­tries. After trav­el­ing to more than 35 coun­tries, he stopped in Viet­nam and decid­ed to stay in Hoi An. That was 2 years ago. It was­n’t long before he met his part­ner Trinh Nguyen. They dis­cov­ered a shared inter­est in the cul­tures of Viet­nam, the sto­ries of the peo­ple, and began doc­u­ment­ing them in the project “Viet­nam the People”.

Viet­nam the Peo­ple is real­ly a col­lab­o­ra­tion project that Trinh and I are doing togeth­er, and that includes ‘Col­ors of Hoi An’. I tell you, she’s the one that has such a good eye in find­ing the peo­ple we pho­to­graph on the streets of Hoi An. She can spot usu­al­ly  the small­est details of their appear­ance, even when we can’t see some­one’s face in the photo.”

Hoi An French Quarter buildings

Pictures for the People


Pho­tograph­ing the peo­ple of Hoi An and then find­ing them to learn more about them isn’t where the project ends. “Pho­tog­ra­phy is best when shared. And by that, I mean shared with the peo­ple pho­tographed. Giv­ing peo­ple their pho­tos is per­haps my favorite part of the process. It real­ly makes me hap­py to see the look of sur­prise and hap­pi­ness on their face. Quite often they’ll look at it, smile, laugh then pro­ceed­ed to show it around proud­ly to their friends near­by. Real­ly nice moments of hap­pi­ness. When I see their smiles and laugh­ter, it makes tak­ing the pho­tos more mean­ing­ful to me”

When­ev­er I shoot around Hoi An, I always car­ry a sheath of print­ed pho­tos in my cam­era bag. These are print­ed pho­tos of the peo­ple that I have pho­tographed and hope to run into again, so we can sur­prise them with it.”

Pictures for the People of Vietnam

Read the stories from the people in “Colors of Hoi An”