Blog by Vietnam based documentary Photographer Christian Berg

on my way to Myanmar – stopover in Bangkok…

a few shots from the Erawan shrine – in the “heart of bangkok”  at the Ratchaprasong crossroads




categories: Culture, Music, photography, Vietnam

I confess it has been really really long since my last blog entry… a lot has happened since then in terms of my photography career. Specifically 2 months back I finally made the step to jump into the fulltime freelance life of a documentary photographer in Southeast Asia, which so far has been exciting – and also it means I don’t have any excuses anymore not to blog… while surely more interesting stuff is coming up, for now I just like to share a few cool shots that I took at the “Soul of Vietnam” show at Saigon’s Opera house – here you see a few background scenes of the “Hai Ba Trung” – the legendary two sisters that defeated China in the past.

categories: Culture, photography, society, Thailand

Last September I was in Bangkok to work on a story about women as motorbike taxi drivers. While it was published in the German media in the meantime I will take the chance to post the whole series of portraits here in the following weeks…

Motorbike taxis are a common means of public transport in the urban chaos of Bangkok. Organized in groups, so called “Win”, like the arms of an octopus they reach out from the main roads to bring their passengers deeper into the maze of smaller roads, the “Soi”, where no other public transport (Skytrain or Buses) go.

While driving a motorbike taxi is usually a male domain, there is one group of motorbike taxis that is known as “Win Pak Daeng” or “Win of the red lips”. More than 20 housewives, most of them married to soldiers work here together to earn some extra cash for the family household.

Despite occasional moments of discrimination or even harassment through male clients all of the women are very proud to be part of this group and enjoy the work. The great level of independence they have being their own boss is probably the major reason for them to brave the cities burning sun and tropical rains every day again. Being amongst friends is another one.

categories: Cambodia, Culture, Journalism, photography

Finally. Since 4 years I wanted to go to the Angkor Photo Festival but for one reason or another I never made it until now. But this year I planned my trip already months ago and put it as a fixed date in my calender. I should have done this in earlier years too. For sure I will do it for the next year. There is for sure no better event in Southeast Asia for anyone seriously interested in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography.

For a bit more than a week the small town of Siem Reap in Cambodia which is usually know as a basecamp for tourists to visit the spectacular temples of Angkor Wat gets flooded with Photojournalists, Photographers, Editors and other media people from all over Asia and the rest of the world. Besides a yearly photo workshop for young Asian photographers there are a lot of things to do. Every evening there are different exhibitions opening all over town and after that there is usually an evening of slideshows in the nice Garden of Siem Reap’s Foreign Correspondent’s Club (or short FCC) followed by beers and talks until early morning @ Laundry Bar which became the late night hang out of the festival. During daytime there are also lots of possibilities to catch up with likeminded people and speak about current projects or do portfolio reviews.

For me it was simply a mind blowing experience to meet so many photographers from all over the world, some I heard of before, some I met in the social media before, some were new to me, some were old hacks who have been in Southeast Asia since the Vietnam War and others just recently came here. But all conversations were great and inspiring. Especially it was a great pleasure to spend a lot of time and silly chats with the Vietnam Expat Photographers Crew (Kevin German, Aaron Joel Santos and Justin Mott) – now I finally know how to master Photography and what these scarfs are for!

categories: Cinema, Culture, Media, Vietnam

When I am in Saigon I usually try to go to Cinema once a week. Most of the films that are screened here are Hollywood Blockbusters or some B-movies that for one reason or another made it into the local cinema. Besides that there is a fair amount of East Asian horror and martial arts movies coming in. The Vietnamese movies (nowadays almost always with English subtitles) are mostly comedies or chickflicks, well produced though with lots of overseas Vietnamese influence, but stay on the rather shallow end of the spectrum. Friends of arthouse cinema have slightly harder time here (which leads to more private screenings). However when I went to cinema this Sunday it was a local Vietnamese movie which totally hit my movie nerve: Hot Boy Noi Loan (or “Lost in Paradise” – which is not a direct translation btw).

Hot Boy Noi Loan tells the story of a young man coming to Saigon in order to find happiness but the very first thing he encounters is betrayal, and so after only being in the big city for a few hours he finds himself naked in an empty apartment, robbed of all his savings. But this is only one of many stories in this movie. It looks at gay love and prostitution in very direct yet not moralistic way. In another story line the film also follows a mentally challenged man who drifts through Saigon’s streets, falling in love with an aging prostitute and finds himself hatching a duck egg. If these story lines sound odd to you, than it is because they are. And this is what makes the film different from other local productions.

Overall the movie is a refreshing surprise for the local film industry.

I love the movie for several reasons:

- It a great change from other Vietnamese movies which either portrait homosexuals in a stereotypical and funny way (De Mai Tinh / Fool for Love) or look at prostitution clearly as a “social evil” (Gai Nhay / Bar Girls).

- Hot Boy Noi loan convinces through deeply poetic cinematography and music (especially following the character of Cuoi and the duck egg)

- personally I always love to watch movies set in Saigon and I always try to spot familiar locations in the Thanh Pho (in this case the movie mainly was set in D4, D2 and Binh Thanh District near the railroads that run close to my friends house)

While I can go on to hail Hot Boy Noi Loan for its creativity, story and cinematography, there where also a few points to critique. One is a technical aspect – quite often the camera focus did not seem to be quite right – this for me does not really matter though, but I guess it shows that it must have been produced with a really low budget that did not allow much space to re-shoot scenes. The other one are the parallel story lines: I wonder why they never cross?

Overall a great movie for everyone slightly interested in contemporary Vietnamese Cinema.

categories: Architecture, Culture, photography, Vietnam

just got a new post on Goethe’s Cityscapes Blog

Check it out if you have time

categories: Architecture, Culture, Laos, photography, Travel

A few images from the Khmer-style ruins of Wat Phu in Champasak, Laos.





categories: Architecture, Culture, Journalism, Media, Vietnam

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about Saigon’s Eden Building.
Saigon based film maker Peter Scheid has some interesting footage of the place, following its last years from 2005 to 2011 – check it out:

PS: these are only some of the 9 episodes available on youtube

and then I stumbled upon this cool temple…

Khmer Temple

Khmer Temple

Khmer Temple

Khmer Temple

I was walking through downtown Bangkok when I had to stop for a moment… there was an amazing mixture of sounds. An old Chinese looking man was playing the Violin, not a real song yet deeply sad. Out of loudspeakers at the next shopping mall every minute the same announcement in Thai was repeated. The Skytrain rolled in. I took a deep breath in the hot and steamy Bangkok afternoon, got touched by a slight breeze… and then I started recording and shooting at the same time…

This is the result.

Bangkok – Siam Square – May 2011 from Christian Berg on Vimeo.