In our coverage of the new Vietnam’s cultural personalities, we meet with Hiroyuki Oki. A well-respected Japanese architectural photography who has plied his trade in Vietnam for the past ten years, Hiroyuki shares with us his story of arriving in Vietnam and how he approaches his work. And of course, his favorite Japanese restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.
Can you share the story about how you ended up in Vietnam?
I was backpacking at the time, taking photographs of the people and cultures along the way. At the time I was also a specialist in interior and architectural photography. Seeing Vietnam as a backpacker also brought back my memories of how I always wanted to become a photojournalist.
My travels also motivated me to leave Japan. I worked in Tokyo for 13 years and I felt ready to take the next step. I’ve always had an adventurous mind. I don’t like staying in one place for too long. When I first met my wife nine years ago, here in Vietnam, it felt natural to stay here and explore a new career path. When I first arrived here, architectural photography wasn’t in demand. Despite the lack of an incumbent in the field, I was firm in what I wanted to pursue, so I stuck with it and the results have been beyond what I expected.
What have been your favorite projects to shoot in Vietnam?
I enjoy working with architects that are experimental and doing something new. Many of the rising architects here in Vietnam are working on projects that are closely connected to the environmental. They also consider the historical and cultural impact of their work.
On the other hand, there are some architects that build in Vietnam without consideration for the constraints of Vietnam. I’ve seen expensive, over-the-top projects that aren’t suitable for most Vietnamese and most people can’t access or appreciate it. I enjoy working with architects that produce works that can be enjoyed by everyone and can deliver value for everyone.
As a Japanese expat, what are the most difficult challenges in managing a business in Vietnam?
When I’m shooting in Japan, clients will prepare everything perfectly in advance. In Vietnam, clients tend to rush the photography. Many times I’ll find the site still under construction. It’s not clean, not prepared. In those situations, I try to be flexible. But many times the restaurant owner doesn’t understand why I’m there in the first place.
Why do you think people are interested in your work? Where has your work taken you to?
Whenever I take photos, I keep in mind the need to maintain the details. I take time to try and understand the project and story. Why did the architect choose this particular detail? There’s a reason for all of this. I try to understand the process and borrow a perspective through the lense and process of the architect. I try to reverse the process from where they started, from the concept to construction to the finished product. Respect the space and owner, don’t manipulate it. Young photographers don’t understand that.
My work has taken me to Laos, Cambodia, Japan, Sweden, Singapore. I’m always keen on seeing what work is out there.
Thanks for sharing your work with us, Hiroyuki-san! Now onto some fun questions…
What are your favorite Japanese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City and why?
Pizza 4P’s is the boring, but correct, answer! I also have much respect for Sushi Rei. You need to book in advance for dinner. The brand is owned by a Japanese family.
It seems like travel is a big inspiration for you. Where do you want to go next?
South America to see the Spanish colonial architecture.
Who should we speak with next?
Edward Stoddart, an Englishman who works in furniture design and now owns his own Vietnamese-based company Square Roots.