To remove the colorful palette from the lively markets of Vietnam may seem astounding, but Julian Kröhl’s series proves that it can be done. As a child, he walked around looking through the viewfinder of his grandfather’s analogue camera. Today, he studies communications design and works as a freelance photographer. At the beginning of the year he went on a trip to Vietnam with Berlin photographer Matthias Leupold. In the following interview he explains why he decided to capture his impressions in black-and-white with a Leica M6, an analogue camera.
Q: Do you remember your first day in Vietnam?
A: My first day in Vietnam began with a transfer in Saigon. Consider that it was March and still pretty cold in Germany. I had to change terminals and walk about 600 meters outside with all my luggage. The 35°C temperature outside hit me hard. The burning sun and extreme humidity were an intense first encounter with this foreign country. I can still remember how heavy the air was, and how the strange smells led me to breath more carefully. On top of it, there was the noise. Everything was very loud, everything was different, everything was new. I was so overwhelmed by all those first impressions, that it took two days before I could take a first picture.
Q: Can you give us a bit of background information – when you were there, and where exactly?
A: All the pictures were taken in the north of Vietnam – between Hanoi and the border with China. The connection arose through Berlin photographer, Matthias Leupold, who was capturing the last impressions for his documentary film Lighter than Orange. Leupold is dedicated to the cause of victims of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant that was used during the Vietnam War. Thanks to his close contacts and friendships with people over there, he allowed me to get a unique glimpse at this fascinating country.
Q: Why did you decide to photograph this colorful place in black-and-white?
A: People there often commented for or against black-and-white photography, and I also questioned it myself. One thing is sure: Vietnam has an incredible palette of colors to offer. Because of my studies in communications design, however, I deal with the teaching of colors and drawing, so I know how misleading and unpredictable color can be. Personally, in most cases I find color superfluous, because my eye tends to focus more on order and shapes.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: My photography is definitely very driven by graphics and geometry. My eyes are always looking for shapes, chance and composition. Right from the beginning, I’m basically looking for the photograph that I want to represent or create.
Q: All the pictures were taken with a Leica M6. Why did you decide to use analogue equipment? Where did this preference for analogue come from; after all, you were born in 1992, so you didn’t grow up with it.
A: Analogue equipment attracts me for many reasons, but mostly because of the feel. It’s made of metal, makes wonderful sounds, doesn’t need electricity and doesn’t distract with displays and information. For sure, the original preference came from the cameras that were very different to what I knew. Nowadays it’s the tingle that remains after taking a picture, wondering if you’ve managed to capture the decisive moment.
Q: Which lenses did you use?
A: I had two M6 bodies with me, one equipped with a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH. and the other with an older Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH. In retrospect I see that about 95% of the pictures I chose were taken with the 35 mm. That’s my favorite focal length, though I never want to miss out on the Summilux.
Q: Your portfolio primarily includes pictures from fashion shoots; but your personal projects are mostly in black-and-white, and taken in the style of travel, photo reportage. Do your personal projects serve as a counterbalance to your commercial ones?
A: That’s exactly it. Analogue and black-and-white represent the perfect contrast. Just like when someone takes off a uniform or a suit after finishing work, I know that when I set aside my DSLR workhorse and pick up an analogue camera, I can then be free!
Q: What other places would you like to photograph?
A: I would like to return for a longer trip to Armenia and the Caucasus, and maybe head even further east from there. I used to have a great ambition to travel to lots of places to take photographs. However, that has calmed down with the acknowledgement that it takes a lot of time to come to understand a place even in the slightest. That goal is no longer so important to me. To go with the flow and then dive in wherever, that’s something I enjoy.
Thank you for your time, Julian!
– Leica Internet Team