Saigon-based Adrien Jean saw street photography as the gateway to the experiences, adventures, and local culture that Vietnam had in store for him.
I am Adrien Jean, a self-taught French photographer who has developed an ever-growing passion for the craft since I first set foot in Vietnam in 2014. The streets of Saigon, a place I now call home, have become my playground for experimentation and inspiration. Exploring the city through my lens has helped me to get a better grasp of the local culture and to connect with people in a deeper way.
Saul Leiter, my favorite photographer, used to say, “It’s quite possible that my work represents a search for beauty in the most prosaic and ordinary places.” This philosophy inspires my photographic journey and guide my steps on my travels in Vietnam and around Asia.
URBAN BEINGS is my personal search for how beauty translates into candid minimalist images, depicting people’s interactions with a fast-changing urban environment. My compositions convey a sense of loneliness. They provide a quiet space for one to reflect on their place in the evolving urban landscape.
Why did you get into photography?
My passion for photography started with my journey in Vietnam. It was such a cultural shock for me at the time that I felt photography would be a good medium to fill the gap between this unknown place and myself.
Which photographers are your biggest influences?
My first and still biggest influence in photography was the NYC photographer and early pioneer of color photography Saul Leiter. The poetry inherent to his photography inspires me to this day. I am also inspired by photographers like Henri-Cartier Bresson, Fan Ho, and Garry Winogrand.
How long have you been shooting?
I have been shooting film for two years before switching to digital in 2016, mostly shooting my travels at the time. I really got into street photography when I bought my Fujifilm XT-20 in 2018.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
It is a way to connect to people but also to myself in a deeper way. Photography gave me the opportunity to express myself and to develop my own vision. It helped me to emancipate from a routine that didn’t satisfy me anymore and to find more meaning in my life.
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?
It depends. When I am traveling to other countries, I like to document and create stories/photo projects about the local traditions or habits I am witnessing.
However, my real passion lies in shooting the streets where I let my instincts take the lead and react spontaneously to what is happening around me. I feel more of a creator then. I also express this creativity lately by shooting more and more in black and white.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?
In the first time, I try to find light and background that complement each other. Then I will compose my images by waiting for the right character to enter the frame and complete the story. I shoot with a minimalist approach in mind in order to enhance the message I wish to convey. Recently, I have been using a B&W emulation on my screen to focus solely on contrast, shapes, and lines (even if I use the picture in colors afterward).
Want to walk us through your processing techniques?
I keep it as simple as possible. I start from the Classic Chrome film simulation and I slightly desaturate the image to make sure the colors are not distracting the eyes too much from the subject.
What made you want to get into your genre?
It came naturally after experimenting with my camera. I guess I could say it was the call of the street after being stuck too long in an office. Street photography is the best way for me to portray the synergy between human beings and their environment, to document the way our cities move with the times. It is the photography of freedom, of instincts spontaneously reacting to the happening moment. It is a way to understand the world but also to get to know myself better.
Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.
Shooting only with prime lenses (35mm and 50mm) pushes me to think more creatively and to keep consistency through his work, giving more impact to the concept behind the photos. I also really like Fujifilm’s color rendering which conveys my vision well.
What motivates you to shoot?
I think it’s about meaning and creation. I had high responsibilities in what I was doing before but I often felt the outcomes were quite empty and meaningless to me. Creating art and empowering others in their photography (I am organizing photo tours in Saigon) give me a purpose.