One Day That Summer: Linh, Northern Vietnam

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To celebrate summer, in the course of the following months I will be collaborating with various photographers and photography collectors to bring you exclusive stories from behind the lens. Whether travel photography or pictures from the movie sets, One Day That Summer is an invitation to discovery, to open your mind and eyes, to live life like you stole it.
 
 
José Pablo Cordero Iza‘s body of work spans travel, diverse societies, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike, yet always retains the human element. There is a vibrancy to his photography that can only stem from his ability to communicate the reality and uniqueness of the places and people he represents in his work. His portraits capture those tiny moments that tell a thousand stories. I talked to José about one particular story, the one behind his portrait of the girl of the rice paddies of Lào – Cai (which, every time I look at it, reinforces my opinion that black and white images have a power that colour can not match), about the role of photojournalism, and about his book, “Visual Passport”, which is the result of 12 years of traveling around the world (and which is unfortunately only available in Chile for now).
 
 

“There are personal moments that are magical,
and I keep them for me. I feel that being without
the camera in some moments, allows me to catch
those seconds in my mind.
It is my intimate moment with the observed.”


 
 
What’s the story behind this photo?
I had the habit of going for a walk very early in the morning, taking pictures across the rice paddies in the mountains of Lào – Cai, in the north of Vietnam at the border with China. During those days of long walks, a little girl always accompanied me. Perhaps she was curious about what I was doing, or just for fun. The girl had a beautiful smile and timid eyes, but they were very penetrating. She understood only a few words in English. Timidly, she told me her name: “My name is Linh”. We did not speak a common language, and all our communication was based on sign language, looks and gestures. The following days, she became my company. It was not until my last day in the mountains that I decided to take her picture and thus will be able to remember her always.

Years later, while revising my files in editing my book, “Visual Passport”, I was reunited with that photo and the memories immediately emerged. Noticing that image I felt an impulse to search the meaning of her name. To my astonishment, I found it meant “Free Spirit” in Vietnamese. There could not be a better name for the little girl who freely followed me across the beautiful countryside of Northern Vietnam.

Could you tell me a little more about your book, “Visual Passport”?
Visual Passport is my last photobook, the third of my own. Visual Passport is a journey through everyday images, which are the result of 12 years of travel around the world. This book also contains collages of my own. It is a very personal record, because on this project I used different formats of cameras, such as lomography and polaroid cameras. As its name says, it is a Passport through images.
 
Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

“Visual Passport”, by José Pablo Cordero Iza


 
Do you always carry a camera with you?
Actually, I’m not carrying my camera with me all the time, because, for me, when I go out to photograph, I put all my energy and concentration into it. It is a state of mind, where I focus and put all my passion into the act of photographing.

Take or make a photograph? Do you wait for a good photo? Are there times when you simply witness the moment without taking/making any picture?
It depends on the circumstances, there are situations when many photographs are in front of you, and just press the button. There are other images, when you expect the moment and a particular light. Inside you know that you will find the scene and the precise moment. With respect to your question, there have been many photographs that I have kept in my mind. There are personal moments that are magical, and I keep them for me. I feel that being without the camera in some moments, allows me to catch those seconds in my mind. It is my intimate moment with the observed.

A travel writer once told me that the most fulfilling thing about her work is being able to change the false impression that somebody has on a country and people. What is the most rewarding thing about your being a journalist and a travel and documentary photographer?
In my years as a traveler, photographer and journalist, I have been fortunate to live many intense experiences. But I think I can not single out just one rewarding experience. I think it’s a set of learnings that help you grow as a person and in your work. Being able to travel the world and share experiences with such diverse cultures in Africa, Asia, America (South and Central) and Europe makes your work on the field rewarding.

Over time there have been concerns about image manipulations by some famous photojournalists, and complaints that their photos are exploitative and represent a false, exotic vision of non-Western cultures to feed the fantasies of the Western audience, while failing to reflect reality. What is a photojournalist’s role? Shouldn’t it express a visual interest in these cultures’ history and ethnography, rather than their “value” to the Western world?
It seems unacceptable to me the manipulation of elements in the photographic composition. I think it is an unfair act and it causes damage of the photographic work of all my colleagues who are really honest. Stereotypes about certain cultures are a real vice. Always try the same concepts and focus only on misery, pain etc, leaving aside another aspects like hope, and happiness of the people of those places. But I also believe this situation is not only the fault of the photographers, it is also the responsibility of some publications and editors who are interested in selling certain patterns and messages to the readers.
 
Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

“Visual Passport”, by José Pablo Cordero Iza


 
You are Chilean. If you could capture the essence of your country in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Wow, it is a difficult question, but I think a sentence that could describe my country, or rather a concept, is: “A Land of extreme nature”.

What is the most fundamental ingredient in your pictures? What does it take for a photo journalist to go there? What do you want to communicate through your photographic stories?
More than a specific ingredient, I try to look for spontaneity, and I think this one is the real interaction with what you are going to photograph. In my photography, I try to show the viewer the situations and experiences that I have lived, transport and involve the reader with the stories, places and especially the people that are appearing in my assigments and journeys.

They say that people make the place. Do you agree?
I think that a fundamental unit in photography is the anthropological and sociological content. There are stories in which the human factor is the essence of the stories. In photojournalism, like in travel photography, individuals provide answers in order to understand societies in their complexity. Interacting with the human being is a key factor for the results of what you want to communicate.
 
Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

“Visual Passport”, by José Pablo Cordero Iza


 
What is the most important lesson that your travels have taught you?
Difficult times are lived in the world. There is a lot of mistrust and hate. Travel has allowed me to cultivate tolerance and respect for the different ways of thinking and living that exist, in addition to respect for the nature that surrounds us. I firmly believe that societies must seek bridges of union and not WALLS of separation. Travel has made it easier for me to establish my personal bridges of understanding with others.

What is your favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the “golden hour”?
That depends on what you are searching for in your photographs. There are moments when the light of the first hours of the day gives much force to the image, or in the evening. But there are times when situations appear at any time. I think the photographer can not be conditioned by the hours of the day. It’s always a good time for a great photo.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now (old or new location), preparing to shoot, where would you want to be?
I would like to return to many places. But now I have two destinations that await me in a short time. They are different projects, the first one in France, and the other one in the Peruvian Amazon.
 
Visual Passport Jose Cordero Iza

“Visual Passport”, by José Pablo Cordero Iza

You can keep up with José’s photography and work on Instagram: @cordero_iza

photos of the book: courtesy of the photographer


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