After she moved to Hanoi from the Netherlands a few years ago, the photographer Loes Heerink began spending a lot of time hanging out on bridges, waiting for a vendor to pass on the street below, pulling a cart of colorful wares.
Heerink has been photographing Hanoi’s street vendors from above for over a year, capturing their beauty without the background noise of the bustling street. Heerink is raising funds through Kickstarter to publish her colorful collection of aerial images in a book, Vendors.
In Hanoi, most of the approximately 5,000 street vendors are women who travel to the city from the countryside a few times a week to earn money for their families. An online gallery from the Vietnamese Women’s Museum delves into the personal lives of these women, many of whom work from 2 a.m. until 7 p.m., sleeping in crowded shared housing with other vendors and earning just around $2 per day. Heerink spoke to one woman who, well into her seventies, still ventures out to sell bananas off the back of her bicycle each day. The fruit is too heavy for her to transport all at once; she’ll store a supply at a friend’s house and make several trips back during the day to restock.
Even though vendors are integral to the visual fabric of Hanoi, their political status is tenuous. Since 2008, in an effort to “modernize” the city, the Hanoi government has implemented a partial ban on street vending.
However, many vendors are their families’ primary breadwinners, with no other work training they could fall back on should the vendor ban extend to all of Hanoi. The Women’s Museum exhibit includes interviews with economists who advocate for limiting the ban and allowing vendors to continue working. For her book, Heerink hopes to include more interviews with the women she photographs to lend depth to the images she captures. People know so little about the migrants who travel Hanoi to work, Heerink says; much like the museum exhibit, her work could provide insights into the lives of people who are often ignored or brushed past in the street. Also, Heerink hopes to reinvigorate an appreciation for the color and humanity the vendors bring to Hanoi. “They have no idea how beautiful their bicycles are,” Heerink writes on her Kickstarter page. “No idea that they create little pieces of art every day.”