PDN Photo of the Day

A Quiet Contemplation on Hanoi

At 27 years old, Adam Birkan has hit nearly all the major milestones of a rising star in the industry. He was honored in Emerging Photographer in 2014, landed a spot in the highly competitive Eddie Adams Workshop in 2016, was named one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographer to Watch in 2017, and won PDN’s Photo Annual in two categories this year, Personal and Magazine/Editorial.

Born in Israel, Birkan was raised in Cincinnati and studied visual communication at Ohio University. He currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand, and travels throughout Southeast Asia with his Fuji x100S and x100F, documenting the world around him. His body of personal work captured in Vietnam caught the attention of the Photo Annual judges this year, earning him a prestigious win in the Personal category. Here, Birkan explains what fueled this body of work.

PDN’s Photo Annual is now open for entries for 2019. Visit www.pdnphotoannual.com to learn more and enter.

PDN: Is there a creative concept you had in mind for the work?
AB: The creative concept didnʼt develop until my fourth or fifth trip. I’d been compiling an archive of photos with no real direction. Eventually, I started to see a common theme in my work.

Most of my work explores the reality of economic disparity. For this project, economic disparity played a peripheral role to the core concept of history versus development in Vietnam. The project seeks to visualize that history as it competes with globalization in the same spaces, The result is an unfamiliar amalgamation of past and present.

PDN: How did you bring that vision to life as you were working on the project?
AB: I brought that vision to fruition by seeking out and photographing the entire spectrum of Hanoiʼs economic and social landscape. By making as diverse a set of photos as possible, I created a project that shows the scope of Hanoi in the 21st century. I also walked a lot.

PDN: Youʼve mentioned before that William Eggleston’s photography is a source of inspiration for you. Did his work influence your series from Hanoi?
AB: Yes and no. Egglestonʼs photos have always possessed an oxymoronic, cold-intimacy. That’s not the aesthetic of my work, although I try to invoke that same feeling. The content of Egglestonʼs photos are very much of their time; they are the opposite of timeless. Even though my photos may not be considered timeless, I don’t want the time period to be easily identifiable. Just the general idea of the “21st century.”

PDN: What is your favorite part of this series,and why?
AB: My favorite part of most of my work is the satisfaction of going somewhere and understanding it in a way that I hadnʼt before. Itʼs like learning an interesting fact every second of every day. That’s what a successful project is for me.

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  1. Great series – Southeast Asia in general, and Vietnam specifically offers quite the window into the world of extreme economic disparity, especially in the big cities like Hanoi and HCMC. It’s pretty staggering to see the extremes at both ends – huge luxury cars passing scooters with an entire family crowded on.

    • At least they have a scooter that would have been a pushbike 20 years ago as for the huge luxury car it could belong to one of the ruling class or an entrepreneur who saw a market and exploited it good luck to him.

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