Why Are Your Pictures Sad?

Recently I have been moving towards using my blog more than my website.

The website feels static, more of an online portfolio (which is what it is really) and in some ways more of an add-on to the blog.


In a previous post I talked about having stickers made up and the more I thought about it the more I realised what a waste it would be to have them made up with my website on them. They should be directing people here to the blog, where they can see the most up to date work and ramblings of a coffee and Redbull fuelled weirdo.


But ‘Ryan Neilan Blog,’ just didn’t jump out at me. I wanted something a little, not catchier, but…catchier.

So a few nights ago, around 2:30am after one too many Redbulls, I was putting together a list of possible names for the blog.

‘Saigon Streets.’

‘Saigon Shutter something.’

‘Hem Life.’ (Hem being alley in Vietnamese, minus the accents which I still haven’t figured out on my laptop.)

These are just a sample of the lame crap I was thinking of.

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Starting to get incredibly frustrated I decided that the name needed to come from a real life experience, something I had seen or heard or someone had said to me. And that’s when I remembered, ‘Why are your pictures sad?’

You may or may not know that my day job is as an English teacher here in Saigon. I started teaching within my first week of landing here back in 2012 and have been doing it ever since. It’s a good job here with a decent paycheck which allows me the time and financial security to shoot and travel (when I’m not blowing money on new cameras, film and the odd vodka/redbull.)


Students often want to know a lot about their teachers (I teach adults and they have far more questions about you than kids ever do) and on a daily basis I’m asked;

‘Where are you from?’

‘Do you like Vietnamese food?’

And the grand-daddy of all questions, asked on average 1863 times a day…

‘Are you married?’

Now and then students will ask about what I do in my free time, and when I tell them I am interested in photography they often want to see my pictures. Under the assumption that I shoot bright landscapes and selfies, such is the norm here, students usually express dismay at my black and white images and my love of film.


It was a few weeks back when I was showing a group my website (after they asked about it) that one student, looking through my Tokyo series, very seriously and very solemnly, like a kicked puppy, asked ‘Why are your pictures sad?’

At the time I just laughed and explained they weren’t but that question has stuck with me since then and after relaying to some friends (it still makes me laugh) I decided that should be the title of the blog. ‘Why are your pictures sad?’


After that all I had left to do was try to find the saddest picture I had and I was in business!

I don’t find my pictures sad myself but for me that title is just perfectly, especially since I shoot how I do in a country where the desired aesthetic is so colourful and happy and cheery.

So now it’s back to the drawing board with the stickers and back into the alleys of District 4 to take more ‘sad,’ pictures.








3 thoughts on “Why Are Your Pictures Sad?

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