Echoing Themes

“Balloons” and “Old Men Playing Games"

5 min read by andrewbonnenfant. Published in Essays, Stories.

I’ve been shooting both film and digital photography for a number of years. Only recently did I discover certain themes in the work I’ve created — work that is often shot years apart.

The below duo collection of images spans about four years. Earliest being taken during my trip to China in 2013 and the most recent in Barcelona, 2017.

Some photographers go out with the intention of adding specifically to their thematic series. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but to me, those sorts of things come in a totally subconscious and organic way. If I see something interesting, I shoot it. It’s only later that I notice the trends.

Balloons.

Mexico City was the first time I really noticed people selling balloons on the street. It’s just not something you see in the US. I’m not sure there was anything that drew me to it — no social statement or whatever — other than the absurdity of it all. You can be several blocks away and see these cartoons bobbing up and down toward you, and it looks so out of place. I also absolutely love the colours. They’re so artificial and out of place on a city street.

Upper two: Mexico City. Above: Barcelona.

Again, I ran into balloon salespeople all over Barcelona. I particularly love the shot of that guy sitting on the park bench with the balloons sort of… flying away from him in the wind. His expression kills me. He’s so bored. So sick of the balloons, it seems, and then there are these colourful cartoons attached to him. I guess in that sense, it’s the juxtaposition of the two that drew me to that photo.

Old Men Playing Games.

I think my fascination with old men playing games is about the community that they’ve formed around this hobby. This is their life! It’s what they look forward to every single day. There’s something that I really love about that.

These guys sit there for hours on end — probably to get away from their wives or whatever — just staring at a board with some pieces on it. And it’s universal. China, Barcelona, New York City: everywhere you go, you’ll find these little communities gathered around to pass the time. It’s awesome. And I’ll probably be one of them someday!

Upper two: Barcelona. Last two: Beijing.

I went to China for work in 2013 — sometime around May, if I remember correctly. I worked for an American subsidiary of Alibaba at the time and they flew our entire company to Hangzhou for a party. I was able to break away and do a bit of travelling on my own. The shots of old guys playing games were taken outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing. I really enjoyed shooting in there. It was unlike any other place I’ve visited, and in a sense, I felt a lot more brazen in shooting on the streets than I do at home in the US. At least at that time. I think my trip to China helped open me up and gave me the confidence to really dive into shooting on the streets at home.

Mexico was part of a trip I took in the spring of 2017. The main purpose of the trip was to attend the US vs Mexico soccer match at Estadio Azteca — an absolutely insane experience. Mexico City was incredible. So much life. So much energy. So much fun to shoot.

Barcelona was a spur-of-the-moment trip I took in the summer of 2017. There was really no rhyme or reason to the trip other than the fact that I found a round-trip ticket from San Francisco for $300. Simply couldn’t pass that up!

These oddities that I discovered in vastly different parts of the world are so… similar. If that makes sense? Balloons in Mexico. Balloons in Spain. Old men and games in China. Old men and games in Spain. They’re completely different worlds, yet, they’re so much alike.