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Hanoi Bikes vibrantly captures life and culture in Hanoi. How did you come up with the idea?
I decided I wanted to go back to South East Asia and visit Vietnam. I read that motorbikes would be banned by 2030 in the capital, so it instantly became a more exciting topic. The more I thought it through, the more I thought it’d do a successful project. As a photographer, when you’re looking at something to shoot, you can be put off by it if somebody else has already shot it. You start this process by looking for something unique.
The chances of discovering something unique when everyone has a phone in their pocket are now incredibly slim, so one of the challenges is to get over that fact and begin to think about how you can approach it differently. Shooting the bikes with all their stuff is not a new concept. Most shots seen on the internet come from out the back of taxis or from the pavement. I wanted to go in the opposite direction and control the environment by lighting the area in a photojournalistic manner.
How did you get the bikers to stop and participate in the shoot? Were some sceptical or excited to be a part?
Most were just bemused as to why I found the thing they do every day interesting. To them, it’s so commonplace they couldn’t understand why I found it fascinating. Logistically I had a local fixer with me on a motorbike, so I’d send him off chasing people if we spotted anyone interesting. I would pay a little bit of money for their time. It was often the case that we’d set up a shot when something four times as crazy would trundle past, so off we would go trying to track them down.
How did you choose who to photograph and what were the most uncanny things you saw tied to their motorcycles?
By walking around the city and exploring it, you realise that although there are many small businesses, many people have the same trade. For example, the guy who delivers ice to the bars was one of many doing so. Once you identify the jobs worth capturing, you can look out for them. Having fish on the back of a motorbike is pretty unusual.
Do you think it’s vital that people from other cultures see how others live and if so, why?
There is a benefit in seeing how others live. There are lots of exciting things in the world. It takes somebody not from the area too would with fresh eyes. I’m sure there are hundreds of things fascinating in every culture, but one of the dangers is becoming blind to them.
What gave you the certainty that the shoot was going to produce the results you wanted? W what advice could you give to photographers keen to embark on similar projects?
In terms of advice, simplicity. You can often become unstuck because you’re trying something that needs to be simplified. Things that resonate with people are usually simple. If you look at this project, it’s essentially one picture with different subjects and locations. Sometimes you have to take a little bit of a risk. You can be confident that you can do your part, but there are always other cogs in the machine.
For example, if you can’t find subjects willing to participate, you will be up against it. I did not take much of a risk in Hanoi because there were no expectations before going. It can be easy operating there because people are intrigued about you and your actions. It would be a different story in London because there is less novelty.
What are your plans for the future?
There are a few things I have my eye on. It is challenging, however, because you have to be confident when putting your chips on one number. The period between projects is quite interesting. I’m moving towards the quality, not quantity, approach and find myself over-researching potential ideas. The more I research something, the more I feel weary about the idea.