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Loan BB goes it alone as she photographs Vietnam's people and scenery

Born Tran Thi Thanh Loan in Ho Chi Minh City where she grew up, the photographer known as Loan BB decided in her thirties that she would see and capture as much of Vietnam as she could, and travel every country road in the land if possible.

When we called on Friday to arrange a face-to-face interview, BB said she was wandering across the northern plateau in perfect weather, taking what she described as "the most beautiful photographs," and would return south in two weeks or so.

Was there a traveling companion? "No. I prefer going alone rather than in a group as it's easier not having to worry about other people and their habits.

"It's simpler to get around, to move on at a moment's notice, and I don't need anyone's permission to do anything." BB is truly a free spirit who rarely makes plans, if at all.

She says that life can be difficult for a woman her age (she's 39), and hers is not always full of the light and joy that figure so prominently in her photographs.

Among other trials, she and her husband divorced five years ago and their son now lives with his father and grandmother.

Her chequered working life has seen BB employed in sea transportation, the newspaper industry, print advertising, the food industry, even human resources, and the restlessness never left her.

"Living alone, getting into a bad mood, feeling daunted by all the things I thought I had to do, it was too much at times. Luckily I decided to buy a camera and thereby found a new career," she says.

"At first photography was just something to do but then I got really interested. Thank goodness I was living the single life and could seize the new opportunity opening up before me."

The first photos BB took were nearly all of the children in her extended family. "I think they are funny and ridiculous, which means the photographer [me!] didn't know how to capture the subjects and had merely used the full automatic mode."

In those early days, she had no idea what an angle was, and certainly knew nothing about light and composition, at least consciously. Still, she posted the photos on the Internet and, much to her surprise, attracted a lot of favorable comments.

The positive feedback gave her the motivation to do more with the camera. She began learning how the professionals took pictures, and was soon critically examining her days' work to see how it compared to the photos she'd taken the previous day.


One of Loan BB's countless photographs of children

Before she knew it, BB was hooked. "The more photos you take, the more you love the camera. And my lifestyle suited it," she says.

"Although I have many friends, because of my independent streak, strong temper and impatience, I have a tendency to do everything by myself."

"Impatient" is not an adjective one would normally associate with a master photographer. BB explains: "Photography requires patience and in fact I am very patient when it's just me and the camera, and nobody else.

"But if there's an intrusive sound or whatever, it puts me off immediately. I like working alone and become uncomfortable if everything is not 'just so.' All I want is to be a better photographer today than I was Wednesday."

Almost from the start of her photographic career, the subjects of BB's work have been children, men and female nudes, though lately she's been trying her hand at landscapes.

"For now I feel inspired to capture the beauty of nature. I have been to so many places without photographing the scenery that I feel I've missed something really good. Like for all photographers, every theme is my favorite at one time or another."

BB's pictures of people say it all - children with innocent smiles and angelic faces; a bashful country girl with her mother; a baby playing by herself; a moment of happiness or fun; or a naive look before the lens.

Her nude shots are almost in a separate and private compartment. "As a photographic subject, the nude is staged rather than natural, and on the whole I prefer the natural look.

"Still, there's no doubt that the beauty of the female form is an endless inspiration for photographers. Thousands of people all over the world take pictures of nudes, even some female photographers in Vietnam, though they rarely want other people to know about it!"

Clearly, BB is obsessed with photography, and a sense of urgency pervades her words as she talks. "Anything might happen in the future. If I don't seize every minute, I could well regret it," she says.

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