Capturing the Beauty of Vietnam's Street Vendors from Above
It was the sights and sounds of Hanoi's street vendors that inspired Dutch photographer Loes Heerink to relocate to the Vietnamese capital some years ago. The fascination developed into a little side project that eventually became the makings of Heerink's first photo book, Merchants in Motion: The Art of Vietnam’s Street Vendors.
Released last month, Merchants in Motion casts an expressive aerial eye across Hanoi's street market culture, documenting peddlers as they carry their colorful cargo of fruits, vegetables and flowers fastened to their preferred modes of transportation. The 140-plus collection of photographs—which features everything from longan, durian and rambutan to lychees and flowers—makes everyday market goods appear like ephemeral, edible art installations.
If you take a moment to consider her perspective, these photographs really are a kind of art. And art, oftentimes, takes patience. Heerink would spend hours on perches across the city, waiting for vendors to pass through underneath.
"After six months of taking pictures, I still hadn't seen a silk flower vendor pass by any of my spots," Heerink says, describing her search to capture Vietnam's tradition of handmade artificial flowers. With the help of a Vietnamese friend, Heerink eventually connected with a silk flower vendor named Buoi. "At the time I met her, "Heerink recalls, "she was trying to earn enough money to go home for Christmas."
Most vendors in Hanoi are female migrants, heading to the city to earn extra money. Some stay year-round, some only when their crops back home don’t need attention. And though Heerink's project could be taken as exploitative of Hanoi's locals, to think that is to miss her celebration of life in the bustling Southeast Asian city, which calls to mind the same joy of New York's The Street Vendor Project, once championed by the late, great Anthony Bourdain on his Queens episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown.
Street vendors all over the world work long hours, often in harsh conditions to provide quick, affordable service to all classes of people. And as Heerink demonstrates, there may be no better way to get to know a city’s beauty than through the stories of its streets.
Emma Orlow is a food writer and cultural event producer interested in the ways art can be used for food justice. She was named a 30 Under 30 by Brooklyn Magazine for 2018. Follow her on Instagram at @emorlow.
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