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Setting Out Again

Hukeng: today's driver

Today’s shave comes courtesy of a back alley barber in a nearby village. I would never have found this place were it not for my driver (above, below), who accurately interprets my need-a-shave body language. He spends the whole time sitting in a barber’s chair chain smoking like a nervous parent. We’ve already agreed a price for the day and he’s sitting here on my time, so if anyone should be nervous it should be me.

The barber’s shop doubles as a photo studio in he back and includes a print club (puri kura) kiosk up front. I retreat into the studio for a post-shave photo – not of me, but to borrow the set to shoot the driver, the shop owner and members of his family. There are a variety of backdrops to choose from ranging from fantastic sceneries to, um, fantastic sceneries – elements of beauty and escapism and very different from club land New Orleans. A high quality print costs 20 Yuan (2 Euro) and given that I’ve taken over his space I order a few. The photographer uses a three year old entry level Sony camera the technical specification of which will soon be surpassed by most new camera phones. How long before we start seeing camera phones at use in photo studios such as this? For all our snobbery about taking ‘proper’ photos with ‘proper’ cameras for most of the world’s population it doesn’t need to be perfect, simply good enough. Today’s high end camera phones are there already.

The PC-less printing process is enough to make a Canon rep smile. While we were waiting for the prints to emerge two teenage girls drop in and flick through booklets of print club designs. The process of choosing print club backgrounds is identical to Ho Chi Minh City – write down then number of the desired designs, pull the curtain shut and create their own version of reality. Second life, with y’know, added life.

There are a few synergies between barber services and the photo studio – after all clients like to look their best before the camera. I couldn’t however persuade the driver to remove his helmet.