culture | 26 July 2018
we love seeing the world through the eyes of our favourite photographers. In our ongoing catch up's with kiwi creatives based overseas, Robyn daly shows us her Vietnam... and tells us a bit about life in her adopted city Melbourne.
interview: russell kleyn
photographs: robyn daly
Photographer Robyn Daly's creativity is ignited by the thrill of travel. She is influenced by chance encounters and the concept of serendipity... Illuminating everyday scenarios & the curious lives of others. We touch base with Robyn at home in Melbourne, fresh off the plane from Vietnam.
Hi Robyn, how are you?
I'm really well thank you. Trying to keep warm in the middle of winter here in Melbourne after trying to stay cool in 30+ degree heat in Vietnam has been a fun challenge!
Where are you from in NZ?
I grew up in Wellington. First half of my childhood was based in Karori, a strange suburb. I spent the rest of my time there living in Island Bay and Newtown mostly.
How did you first get into photography?
I shot my first roll of film when I was about 11 or 12, it was black & white and I still remember those photos. My dad gave me his old Ricoh SLR and showed me some basic settings, and I would go on big walks and take photos of whatever caught my eye. I loved getting my films back, having forgotten what was on them. I still feel like that today haha. Then I took Photography class in High school as soon as I could, and spent lots of time in that little darkroom.
Thanks for taking the time to show us your photographs from Vietnam, what attracted you to head over there?
Thanks it’s my pleasure. Last year my fiancé Albert and I were heading to Europe for summer and on the way there had an 8 hour stopover in Saigon. That Airport sucks to hang out in! So we went out for the day and having never been there before, were pretty taken by the chaotic streets and traffic and wild street food we found on our adventure. The best part was joining a big table of drunk 'businessmen' who were so funny and friendly and shouted us seafood bbq and beers all night long and sang happy birthday to Albert. After another 16 hour stopover on the way home, we were sold and decided to go back and spend a few weeks in Vietnam next time.
Where did you visit on your trip?
In total we visited seven cities and towns. Starting in Saigon, we made the journey up the coast to Hanoi stopping at different places on the way via trains, sleeper buses, cars etc. My favourites in order were Hoi An, Hanoi, Phong Nha, Qui Nhon, Saigon, Hué, Nha Trang.
We love your compositions of the less obvious, almost mundane everyday still life, objects & scenes. Is this a common thread throughout your work?
Yes I think so. I guess I naturally notice the smaller things that seem out of place and unexpected details catch my eye. I’m like a magpie I suppose haha. Watching out for shiny chip packets in nature. It’s just too easy to take postcard perfect photos, and they’re boring, and they are all over the internet already. I don’t see the fun in contributing to those masses of imagery.
Does travel spark your creativity?
Yes, I feel lit up and in my element when traveling with a camera. Obviously there is so much more stimulus for your brain in a new and unfamiliar environment, especially if there’s a foreign language in the background. In these situations, I tend to see things with a heightened awareness and attention to detail, which is perfect when you can then photograph them. When you travel overseas you literally see things in a new light. The air in Eastern Europe is so different to that in California, and again in South East Asia. It gives the most basic and boring objects a new life outside of their usual category we associate with it. It’s refreshing to see things like that almost in a parallel universe. I’m releasing a new book next month, and this is pretty much the general theme throughout.
Is it hard to seperate 'being a tourist' from your creative process?
I don’t really think about it... My creative process of taking photos has always been entwined with travel, and therefore being a tourist in some sense - even while I was living overseas. Being in an foreign place and taking photos goes hand in hand, whether you’re a ‘photographer’ or not. But for me it’s a comfortable position to be in and I don’t consciously think about that aspect, I just really enjoy it.
What are the noticeable differences visiting a socialist country, being from a capitalist country?
Hmm, there are so many differences, it’s hard to pin down. Things that you're so accustomed to at home are suddenly reversed in many ways. I'm no expert, but there seems to be a far more even playing field for local people in Vietnam. There's not a disturbing level of wealth living next door to poverty-stricken housing, like you see all the time in capitalist countries. Don't get me wrong, mass tourism especially in South East Asian countries can get pretty gross and comes with it's own problems, but that's another conversation.
"There's a method to the madness that I will never quite understand."
Vietnam was so chaotic in a really good way. There's a method to the madness that I will never quite understand. The pace of those cities is next level, and everyone seems to co-exist so effortlessly. The streets in particular work like a body of water that continues to function, flow and work together regardless of what’s in the way. In a way I think the streets are a good representation or metaphor for how socialism affects people. For a country that's copped a lot of shit from multiple Western occupations and wars, there's a real sense of resilience, innovation and good humour in the Vietnamese people.
Do you travel alone?
I used to, I'm a huge advocate for travelling alone. Now I travel with Albert or my best friend, Kacy. I think everyone, especially young people, should travel solo if the opportunity comes up. I will again soon...
"I think everyone, especially young people, should travel solo if the opportunity comes up."
What was the soundtrack to your Vietnam trip?
It was a total mixed bag. From pool-side Coltrane, to Rhianna playing in the mini marts. I didn’t listen to music a lot because we were always on the move. Hotel down-time was spent listening to Melbourne bands Peak Twins and Champion Racehorse and some random 90’s hip hop that popped up. On the trains I listened to podcasts, and other people's Skype calls.
What excites you about photography?
Lots of things. I’m excited when I get a download link from Hilvale with my new unseen scans! Hmm, sneaking up behind strangers and snapping their vibe before they turn around and yell at me. The mild panic I get when I see something astounding on the street and have to act natural and quickly snap it with my camera in the correct settings but usually miss it and walk away kicking myself. I like the feeling when you occasionally come across someone else's photos and their view is so in-line with your own, and you feel a real connection through that person's eye.
"I like the feeling when you occasionally come across someone else's photos and their view is so in-line with your own"
We are keen to know a bit more about life in your adopted city Melbourne. What excites you most about Melbourne?
Melbourne is really entertaining when you’re in the mood for it. There’s just so much on, even in the depths of winter. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights you’re usually spoilt for choice in regards to seeing music, going to art shows, cheap movie nights, markets etc. The longer you stay here the more little pockets of activity you find going on, and more interesting people come out of these places. I guess knowing that I’ll never get to the bottom of it is a really humbling and enlightening way to live.
Are you managing to make a living from photography in Melbourne?
I definitely don’t make a living from Photography. I don’t do commercial work very often or at all. But I’m genuinely happy when I sell a photobook or a print to someone who is excited to see it.
Big city living can be draining - Where do you head to escape the daily grind?
I luckily don’t have to spend much time in the city! Occasionally I work in the city but I can still find the fun in that. Best place to go for a quick escape is a friends house for a glass of wine on the balcony or watch a good movie in bed. I’ve recently started baking my own sourdough bread so that’s a really relaxing and rewarding thing to distract you. On a day off I love to hop on the train up the peninsular with a book and spend the day in a different area by the beach, where I won’t bump into anyone haha.
Digital or film?
Film for me
Any tips for young photographers starting out?
Follow strangers, just don’t get into their car at the end.
"Follow strangers, just don’t get into their car at the end."
What do you miss most about NZ?
Seeing my dear friends, my family on a good day, the relaxed pace of the city, walking anywhere in Wellington takes you 20 minutes, being indoors when a random storm rolls in out of nowhere, driving over the Rimutaka Ranges and feeling lucky to be alive on the other side, staying at a tiny beach cabin for the weekend and forgetting the laptop but remembering the wine, swimming in waves… Damn, take me back!
Any upcoming projects you’ve been working on?
Yes, I’ve got a solo show coming up next month which is also a book launch under the same title, 'I Want This Life and Another'. I’m really excited about the book. It’s something I’ve never done before and I’m nervous, scared and excited haha. The show is opening on Friday 17th August at Offsite Gallery, Fitzroy.
Robyn Daly: website
Robyn Daly: @robyndaly_
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