There are many clichés in photography and they are particularly common in travel photography. This is somewhat inevitable considering how countries and cultures are stereotyped in iconic images which are designed to quickly inform the responder of the cultural context and subject matter. Travel guides and brochures make the most of these established clichés, many of which are exotic, paradisiacal or evocatively rustic, to entice people into visiting the places they present. Whilst familiarity can breed contempt and I generally prefer less obvious compositions, I can certainly appreciate a good cliché for having captured the scene so well.
Aspiring to achieve a successful cliché is actually a useful motivator for developing photographers. Whilst people should rightly be encouraged to try to do something “original”, whatever that means, being able to shoot a good cliché – just like those in the travel brochures, for example – is an excellent way to build confidence. Imitation is a form of flattery, certainly, but it is definitely flattering to be able to produce a shot that is roughly the equal of those you seek to emulate.
It is for this reason that I have always felt pleased with this shot. It is a cliché, yes, but it is also a sort of iconic image, immediately recognisable as a symbol of east Asia, and, more particularly, Vietnam. It was taken in 2009 in Hoi An, Vietnam, on what was probably the hottest evening of my life. It was a had been a very hot day – around 38 degrees and highly humid – and the temperature did not seem to drop as evening came on. In the centre of this gorgeous, heavily French colonial influenced town, the still air was so stuffy that even at ten o’clock that night, four hours after sunset, I became so hot I felt sure I would faint. I had to sit down on the pavement for almost twenty minutes to try to avoid the effects of heat exhaustion, which mugged me in a way I’ve never experienced. Fortunately, the temperature dropped somewhat after midnight and things became more bearable.
This did not, however, spoil my appreciation of Hoi An. The historic centre is a low-rise showcase of quaint architecture and fairy-lit streets, lovely to wander around aimlessly. It is also famous as a city of tailors, and if you want something made – a dress, a pair of trousers, a waist-coat – they can usually have it ready for you the following morning at embarrassingly low costs. The quality varies of course and the only real way to be sure is to get a reliable recommendation, or to examine closely the clothes they have on display in their shops.