"Let the rain come down," I thought. After all, I come from Washington state, in the U.S.A., often referred to as the rain state, and I love anything wet so when the skies crack open in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, as often happens in September, I take to the streets, cameras in hand, with an open heart, and open to ideas and different ways of seeing the world.

Rain in Ha Noi can be subtle, almost like mist or a veil of silk; or the rain can come in great floods, the sky breaking apart like an exploded dam. Either situation has little affect on the local population. Rain gear emerges in an eruption of colors; umbrellas twirling like pinwheels, ponchos and raincoats waving like banners and flags of victory.

Poor women selling bananas, dragon fruit, vegetables, cucumbers, and tomatoes, crouch on steps sheltered under drab, gray, rubber, raincoats as rain drips from their conical straw hats like so much despair. Even on the best of days they are hard-pressed to catch the eye of any tourists, who never buy foodstuffs but who might be willing to fork over several dong for having the privilege of having their photo taken pretending to carry the heavy load and, for a few seconds, wearing the conical hat like a grinning carved wooden monkey before casting off their illusion of unity with the common people and splashing off for lunch at the Metropole Hotel.

Neon cafe lights glow through the drizzle as falling water drags color to the sidewalk. A young couple romps under a blowing poncho and laugh at being photographed as they attempt to mount a motorbike. Old women stare out of windows and watch the splashing people scurrying about, wakes of water trailing behind.

I especially enjoy photographing unique scenes using alternative processes, especially cross processing. Cross processing is a technique using color transparency, or slide film, then processing the film in C-41 print chemistry rather than the standard E-6 chemistry. The film does not develop as transparency film but as color negative film with unique colorcasts depending on the slide film used. The color adds a mystical illusion to already mystical scenes. The color is unpredictable supplying a sense of surprise

Photographing with an expensive camera can also be unnerving unless the camera is a very expensive professional one designed to endure a certain amount of moisture and abuse. I use an old cheap point-and-shoot film camera I bought at a garage sale. Getting it wet does not concern me since I can by as many as I like for $5 or $10 dollars, although I have been using the same camera (a Nikon lite-touch) for over five years without difficulty.

Because rainy days are often dark, I sometimes use the built-in flash, but not often. Slow shutter speeds in poor light are not a problem. Blurred shots, like cross processing, add to the effects and it is the mood I am after rather than the clarity. Following standard photographic conventions are not always conducive to creativity although decisions based on photographic knowledge are.

Hanoi in the rain has a special “feel” difficult to describe. The gregarious and social people become more contemplative, more introspective. Laughter mutes to subtlety. Rain slickers and umbrellas cloak private thoughts and children not splashing in puddles move closer to parents.

The aroma of food, reluctant to venture out of restaurants, hovers in buildings where dim light holds in cooking smoke. Tea and coffee, steam rising from cups and glasses, taste richer and softer.

Rain draws me out. Images draw me in. 


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