I would like to thank Chennai Photo Biennale and artistic director Pushpamala N for inviting me to this event. In conjunction with the second edition of this event, the biennale convened an international conference on photography from 16 to 17 March 2019, titled “Light Writing: The Photographic Image Reloaded”. The venue of the public conference is at the historic Museum Theatre, Egmore. The abstract of my paper, part of an ongoing project, is given below. I would like to thank Ha Dao for helping me with some of the background work.
Here, I would like to share some of the documentation pictures that I have taken during my visit to the biennale. The event feels somewhat different to the photofestivals in Southeast and South Asia, partly because of the involvement of Pushpamala N. Even though she circulates mainly in the sites of contemporary art, Pushpamala’s taste in photography is clearly eclectic and wide-ranging. This comes through in her curation, which showcases performance, video, photojournalism, installation, photobook-making and her obvious love for cinema within the same platform. The conference mirrors this multifarious approach, as Pushpamala attempts to make people working in brain science, AI, film studies, political theory, journalism and media arts dialogue under the rubric of a photographic biennale. This sets the biennale apart from similar events elsewhere.
Photographing the Vietnam War: A Comparative Reading of Two Photobooks from Vietnam
By ZHUANG Wubin
The Vietnam War was one of the most bloodied conflicts in the spectre of Cold War. Since then, the research on Vietnam War photography has focused mainly on the works of Euro-American photographers, sometimes setting them apart from those who worked for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This paper takes a different approach by attempting a comparative reading of two iconic photobooks produced ostensibly to represent the viewpoints of the two Vietnams. The first photobook is Viet Nam in Flames (published c. 1969), involving photographers Nguyễn Mạnh Đan (1925-2019) and Nguyễn Ngọc Hạnh (1927-2017). The second book is War Time Photos (published in 2000) by Lâm Tấn Tài (1935–2001). While recognising the imprint of politics dividing both Vietnams, this paper attempts to resurface the parallel (and diverging) contexts that informed the production and afterlife of both photobooks. This is made possible by tracing the biographies of the photographers involved, their participation in the global milieu of salon photography, how they understood their involvements in the war efforts, and their lives after reunification. This reading aims to complicate our dichotomous impression of two Vietnams and to unpack the reach (and limits) of politics in photographic production.