Seeing Thuyen Hello rushing to class at FPT Greenwich University (or sitting quietly in the park for our shoot) you’d never guess he has a fanatical online following for his photographic work. With 200K followers on Piscart and 6K on Instagram, he leads a colourful life beyond the confines of the classroom. It’s mostly coffee-coloured. Because Thuyen Hello usually captures the brown hues of the country’s favourite beverage.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
He didn’t always shoot the caffeinated local brew. Towards the end of his middle school years he took “simple photographs as mementos: landscapes, friends; recording innocent days”. By high school, he’d become obsessed with flatlay photography, where objects are carefully arranged and shot from above. “It doesn’t require sophisticated photography skills,” he admits, “just good aesthetic judgment and a creative approach to laying out objects for each photograph.”
Thuyen Hello’s next influence was a growing group of Thai coffee aficionados. “People like 17_th_, self-proclaimed cafe hopper okvatchara, Jompop Yonokpant also known as guidelline, bw.anuwat, and another ‘cafe seeker’ bellybamm. “I admire them all,” he says approvingly, “because everyone owns their own colour scheme, from orange, to blue, to grey”. The style fascinated him…and it shows in his work.
Coffee and photography might not seem immediately related. Coffee here is associated with romance and deep but meandering conversations. “Photography is the same,” Thuyen Hello explains. “Photographs reveal the soul of the photographer, and all the experiences they’ve been through.” Even in a simple coffeeshop, there’s lots of subjects to explore according to Thuyen Hello.
“There’s the interior and the exterior of the cafe, the coffee drinks themselves, the enthusiastic staff…” On top of that, coffee photographers own their own colour palette — as he learned from the Thai photographers he loves. “And I gradually discovered my own colours, not only through photography but by learning and reflecting about myself and aspects of my life. Actually, people often think I own lots of coffeeshops,” he laughs.
Beyond coffee, he still loves to shoot Vietnamese life: “just something impromptu and casual”. He loves to capture gestures, actions, and the expressions of people on the street “because in that frozen moment people’s emotions are revealed honestly and unblinkingly.”
We wonder which picture of his he feels best represents his work. He shows us an image of a barista intensely focused on making his coffee. “You can really feel the inspiration and emotion,” he smiles. “That’s how a simple coffee can be elevated into a work of art — by paying meticulous attention to every action, measuring and grinding the beans, setting the paper filter and filling it with the coffee, then carefully pouring on the water.” Then he highlights the brown elements of the image where he tried “to create harmony between the people and the wooden surfaces and the natural light behind”.
Like the barista, he uses simple equipment with meticulous care. “Shooting at Cheese Coffee, or The Coffee House, Cafe Luia, or So Nice, I take a compact Canon with a 50mm 1.8 lens. And I take a wide-angled lens for when I was to take a flatlay of things like a notebook and pen or a newspaper.”
So, besides that shot of the barista, we asked Thuyen Hello to show us his three favourite shots.
#1 Starbucks, Thao Dien
His first shot is of the Starbucks Coffee on Thao Dien, in Saigon’s District 2. “I took it without much thought late one afternoon,” he remembers. “I was wandering among the opulent villas of the area when I stumbled across this branch of the international coffee chain. It fit perfectly in this prosperous area popular with expats…but then you have this steady buzz of motorbikes passing by, which is so Vietnam.”
He still loves the juxtaposition: tranquillity and energy; people on laptops, people on motorbikes. And the fact that not all photographs need to be planned and carefully staged.
#2 Marshall speaker, film camera, book
“I think everyone has a special photo that marks a key moment in their photographic journey…and this is mine,” he nods contentedly. Just looking at it, he confesses, stirs lots of memories. “There’s the Marshall speaker, the old film camera, and the book in front of this warm yellow light.”
“I think coffee always has this nostalgic quality, no matter how it evolves or how it’s served. I wanted this picture to be full of emotions, like the complicated human soul.”
#3 Fentiman’s tonic
With his final image, Thuyen Hello admits the shot was a departure from his usual style. And he’s happy that he pulled it off successfully. There’s the tropical greenery in the background “that is a perfect backdrop for the image which made editing these photos a pleasure”. And the curving arc of tonic water being poured into the glass.
“As is often the case, I learned a lot during this shoot. Different types of beans, brewing methods, novel combinations, like adding the tonic water to espresso that create a drink that was bitter, sweet, sour, cool and effervescent on the tongue all at the same time.”
Photos of Thuyen Hello by Khooa Nguyen.