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