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Unexpected country, unexpected job

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Vietnam is a place where Adrien Jean, a Frenchman, gets out of his comfort zone and experiences things that he has not done before, including becoming a photographer.

After more than six years in Vietnam, Adrien Jean considers the country as his second home. It is a twist of fate, so to speak. “The first time I visited Vietnam was in September 2014,” said Adrien Jean. “My family came here for holidays during the summer 2014, but I couldn’t manage to take leave from work then. Ironically and unexpectedly, I ended up in the same country a few months later.”

At that time, he got bored with his life and routine in Paris and was offered a job in Vietnam. A thought flashed through his mind that it was a great occasion to experience something new, he recalled.

Before his arrival in Vietnam, the only thing he knew about this far-away land was that the Vietnamese were among the most optimistic people in the world. He actually found in a study. And when he settled in Saigon—one of the biggest cities in Vietnam, Mr. Jean was totally impressed by the optimism and kindness of the Saigonese. “The more I explore the streets with my camera, the more I realize how welcoming the people of Vietnam are,” he said.

Adrien Jean is now a self-taught photographer

Photography become part of life

Adrien Jean is now a self-taught photographer. For him, photography is one of the things coming to his life surprisingly. Talking about his current job, he said it is quite accidental. “I probably would not have pursued a career in photography if I had not set foot in Vietnam. I was lucky to travel to a lot of beautiful sites of the country doing my job and it inspired me to capture these moments. I started to document my experiences through the lens of a film camera in the first years, and slowly but surely photography became a central part of my life here.”

Mr. Jean said he thought photography has played a role of a bridge which helps him connect with himself as well as the outside world, including people. “At first, I think photography was a self-centered practice, a medium to channel my emotions and be more present in the moment,” he said. “Then, it evolved into something bigger and more connected to others.” According to Mr. Jean, photography is also a tool for better knowing the world around him as well as the local culture by telling stories of people and places in his own vision.

“It’s quite possible that my work represents a search for beauty in the most prosaic and ordinary places” is a saying from Saul Leiter who is Adrien Jean’s favorite photographer and early inspiration. The quote indicates his point of view in photography. “His words and philosophy truly resonated in me when I started photography, as it seemed like he was never forcing anything out, but just being in the moment, trying to make the best of what was unfolding in front of his eyes,” said Mr. Jean. “I try to remember that the process of making beautiful photographs is what matters the most when I start having doubts or getting frustrated.”

Love-hate relationship

Although Adrien Jean has traveled to many beautiful destinations in the country—such as the ancient town of Hoi An, Phong Nha National Park and Ha Giang Province—he still has a very special feeling about Saigon which he describes as a kind of love-hate relationship. “I often need to escape the hustle and bustle of Saigon, but I can’t stay away from it too long,” said Mr. Jean. In his eyes, the city is full of energy and inspiring stories. He still remembers the very first days of his arrival in Saigon with the freedom that he never got tired of when riding a motorbike on the streets.

Although Adrien many things have changed over time, Adrien Jean still loves Saigon. However, the city has become overwhelming lately. In the near future, he may move to Hoi An, which is a charming city where he feel totally free and relaxed. “Walking in the streets of the old town at sunrise is the kind of experience that street and travel photographers are looking for,” he said.

What are your hobbies?

Besides photography, basketball is my first true passion. I majored in Sports Marketing studies and sport in general always played a central role in my life. Also, I got the habit of reading a lot in my early age and it never left me. Since I am in Vietnam, I have also become really interested in meditation and Buddhism. Last but not least, I love travelling to new places and if possible, by train. I hope I can travel from Europe to Vietnam through the old silk roads once the world come back to its old self, if it ever does.

What are your favorite foods and destinations in Vietnam?

My favorite food is probably the one from the center, like bun bo Hue, mi Quang or Cao Lau. I wish I could find Cao Lau in Saigon. I am also really fond of banh cuon for breakfast. Regarding destinations, I fell in love with Hoi An at first sight and always feel good when I am there. Still in the center, I have been once to Phong Nha National Park and I think this area has a lot to offer. In the north, I have been a few times to Ha Giang Province and these road trips are amongst my best memories of Vietnam.

By Vuong Anh

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