This is the second photo project workshop that I have conducted in Saigon, Vietnam. Without the generous support of ZeroStation, it will not be possible to do so. I wish to thank, in particular, Truong Minh Quy for patiently translating my exchanges with some of the participants and acceding to my various requests.
The format is similar to my previous workshops. This year, I open the session with a presentation on what constitutes a photo project. Using examples from Southeast Asia, Taiwan, India and China, I divide the strategies/approaches of different photo projects into the following: (1) documenting impulse, (2) the performative, (3), collecting/archiving impulse, and (4) community-based work. The first and second days are also spent clearing the project ideas of the participants. The remaining days are spent working with the participants on an individual basis, developing their projects and challenging to question their approaches.
This year, the internal critique is at the last day of the workshop. I am again honoured to have Nguyen Nhu Huy, artistic director of ZeroStation, and photographer Bui Xuan Huy sit in for half the session. The presence of Bui is significant because he represents an independent and critical voice in Vietnamese photography, and that his views are important for me and the participants.
There is also a quick editing session after the critique, in which I talk about the differences of editing/curating for a magazine spread, a gallery wall, or an online blog/website. Once again, the workshop ends with an open house, in which the participants are required to explain their work to members of the public. In this way, the workshop takes each of them through the process of creating a body of work–from the conceptualisation stage, to the realisation, editing and presentation of the work at the end.
Finally, I wish to dedicate this workshop to participant Nguyen Phuoc Vinh’s father, who used to be the most famous studio photographer in Cai Lay, Mekong Delta. Suffering from Parkinson’s in his later years, he is the subject of Vinh’s project for this workshop. He passed away less than two weeks after the workshop ended.
Project Introduction / Violet H. Bui
The idea for this work comes from a quote by my professor, who says that my generation was born in the transitional period in Vietnam and that we would grow up with conflicts within us. On a personal level, I realise that if I choose to follow my dreams, I will not be able to meet my parents’ expectations. I wonder if other Vietnamese women born in the same year as me (in 1991) face similar issues. In this work, I create an intimate space for my subjects to talk about these issues while I make audio recordings of our conversations. At the end of the process, I collaborate with them to make portraits, expressing their anxieties.
Ma / Nguyen Uyen Minh
Có những ngày, tôi nhận được tin nhắn của má qua điện thoại “Chủ nhật này về nhuộm tóc cho má nghen!”. Thế là tôi sắp xếp công việc, nếu không là “chủ nhật này” thì cũng là “chủ nhật sau” tôi về. Nhuộm lại mái đầu đã bạc của má.
Tôi chụp lại những đồ vật trong nhà, từ cái chảo nhỏ má hay dùng chiên trứng ốp la buổi sáng đến hai cái khẩu trang má may cho chị em tôi mỗi người một cái, món cá má nấu, cái áo má mặc… Rồi thì tôi vẫn cảm thấy thiếu. Thấy không đủ. Không đủ với những gì má đã làm, đã hy sinh cho gia đình.
Sometimes, I will receive a message from my mother, “Come home this Sunday to dye my hair, my daughter”. I will then schedule my work. If not this sunday, I will go back next Sunday to dye my mother’s greying hair.
I have taken photographs of objects in my house–from the small pan that my mother often uses to fry eggs in the morning to the face masks that she has sewn for my brother and me, from the fishes that she cooks to the shirt she wears… And yet, I feel this is not enough, compared to what my mother has done for the family.
Between Two Photographers / Nguyen Phuoc Vinh
Nguyen Phuoc Vinh uses his work to pay tribute to his father who, despite his childhood disability, became a famous studio photographer at Cai Lay, Mekong Delta. In his later years, his father developed Parkinson’s. By the time Vinh picked up photography, it has become virtually impossible for his father to share his experiences with him.
Apart from photographing his debilitating illness, Vinh tries to reconstruct his father’s photographic vision by presenting his photographs of his young wife (Vinh’s mother) as a counterpoint to his work.
Two Soldiers / Tran Lam Anh Cuong
Tran Lam Ban (b. 1929) was an officer in the artillery unit of the Vietnamese army during the First Indochina War (against the French). Le Kim Bang (b. 1933), on the other hand, joined the French army, only to make a living. As the victor, Tran’s military career was a source of pride for his family. Today, however, none of his children finds joy in their private lives. In contrast, Le has a happy family with nine children and he is motivated everyday by his belief in God.
For the Vietnamese people, the First Indochina War has a special significance. With this work, I wish to meet the soldiers who fought for both sides and to record their stories today.
Ở Trọ / Bằng Dương
Rất nhiều sắc màu khi nhìn qua ống kính, trong đó có cả sắc màu cuộc sống.
Thật ngạc nhiên khi biết được những người lưu trú nơi này không chỉ có công nhân, thợ xây dựng, hay sinh viên, mà người lưu trú nơi này còn có cả các nhân viên văn phòng, kỷ thuật viên, thậm chí cả nhân viên ngành luật.
Vai trò họ là một phần gắn liền với một đô thị phát triển.
Khu nhà trọ hơn 100 phòng phục vụ cho đa số dân nhập cư, thường được gọi là khu nhà trọ Fatima (nhà thờ Fatima Bình Triệu) Quận Thủ Đức. Cách trung tâm thành phố 20 phút đi xe gắn máy.
Temporary Dwellings / Bang Duong
There are diverse colours, seen through the camera. The colour of life is one of them.
It is quite surprising to learn that the people who live in these rental rooms are not merely labourers, construction workers and students, but also office staff, technicians and even legal officers.
They take their place in the evolving urbanity.
The rental rooms are colloquially named after the nearby Fatima Church at Binh Trieu, Thu Duc district, some 20 minutes from the city by motorbike. The Fatima rental homes include more than 100 rooms whose tenants are mainly immigrants.
We Love Us / Adam Robert Young
Completed in the 1960s, 727 Tran Hung Dao Street once loomed over Saigon as an impressive sign of wealth and progress. Known as the Presidential Building, its 535 rooms housed American soldiers during the war, and high ranking government officials after reunification.
Today, however, the building is a rapidly decaying shadow of its former self. Marked for demolition, the building still accommodates around 100 households who refuse to leave, citing inadequate compensation as their reason for fighting the eviction notifications. While they fight, the vacated rooms that once housed soldiers, officials and finally migrant worker families silently await their inevitable ruin. Their walls tell the stories of those who have come and gone — each room similar but unique in the way those who have gone before have left their mark — with the ravages of time and neglect slowly transforming and erasing their trace.
No longer valued, the building and its residents – along with their wealth of memories – are an inconvenience to be removed to make way for clean, shiny progress.
[The title of the work, “We Love Us”, comes from Vietnamese graffiti found in one of the apartments.]
Sleep Alone / Lii Nguyen
In this work, Lii Nguyen confronts his loneliness by seeking out his friends and acquaintances who sleep alone at night. In these collaborative portraits, Lii is seen hugging them, hinting at our need for companionship.
Documentation of the workshop: