There’s a lot happening in the New Vietnam, so it isn’t always easy to keep up with what’s going on. We found a way way to cut through the noise. Each week we sit down with someone at the centre of one scene within the creative community and ask them to be a personal guide – to curate 5 talents and talk us through their selection.
This week I spoke to Linh Pham photojournalist and co-founder of photography journal and collective Matca.
“Hello? Can you hear me?” We began the way all Skype conversations start, when you see the seconds start to increase but haven’t made verbal contact yet. “Yes I can hear you” Linh Pham’s voice came from what sounded like a cafe or a bustling office in Ha Noi and mine replied from an apartment in District 1 of Saigon. “How are you? I begin”.
Linh Pham is a busy man these days, one of Vietnam’s few freelance photojournalist’s. He studied graphic design at RMIT but changed his craft when he saw a documentary called “The War Photographer” exploring the work for James Natchwey.
“I knew I had to do photography after I saw the film ‘War Photographer.‘ In Vietnam when you think about photography, you just think of wedding or commercial photography but when I found him (James Natchwey) I saw that he has a care for the concerns of people. I realised that this was the thing that was gonna get me out of the box and connect with people.”
Although Linh regularly works for news agencies and papers he struggles to live by his craft. He tells me that it’s difficult to be an independent photojournalist in Vietnam today because it isn’t really a profession yet, describing his case as “one of a kind”.
This is one of the motivators behind Matca, described on its website as “A gathering space for photographers and visual artists in Vietnam”. As a photographer Linh realised he needs to invest in the scene, taking the development and discussion of photography into his own hands: “We are young now but we know we want to follow this profession for the next 20 or 30 years so we understand that we need to build something to back us up.”
Matca seeks to provide a kind of gathering space for photographers working today. They publish articles introducing the work of artists that have caught their attention or about theoretical aspects of the practice.
“Apparently in Vietnam, there is no standard or guideline so we just copy – we aren’t doing anything original – we are inspired by what IPA (Invisible Photographer Asia) is doing and try to raise awareness and create a local photography community.”
Alongside the digital publication they are planning exhibitions to get photographers’ works exposed to a larger audience. They are currently teaming up with FrameZero, an independent publication in Manila, & Flock Project, an Indonedian photo collective, to run a photography collaboration which will showcase 20 local artists and exhibit their work across the region.
“We constantly try to seek emerging photographers by extending our current circle and encourage submissions to Matca. Besides showcasing chosen works, we also give feedback and try to help them define the direction to continue the series. We want to go from just featuring artists to building relationships with them and eventually raising a supportive photography community.”
Whilst there are thousands of budding photographers in Vietnam, and literally hundreds of Facebook photography groups (I am a member of three dedicated to Analogue photography alone) and most young Vietnamese are sharing their work on Instagram and Facebook, there is no access to critique or discussion about the practice. Whilst Facebook is a good way to share work with your community, feedback is, by default very positive most people will keep their criticisms to themselves.
He explains: “It’s not going to get you anywhere to share it online and get some likes. If somebody said something bad they would be considered a troll”. Matca hopes to provide a platform for sharing and critically talking about works that can push the scene forward.
So here is Linh Pham’s curated list of his favorite photographers working in Vietnam today, how they have influenced him and what he thinks they bring to the scene.
1. Maika Elan
Maika Elan is the biggest name here. She is young and the first Vietnamese to ever win a prize at the prestigious World Press Photo. She is very influential to the young generation of photographers, especially female ones and one of the few who have been able to catch up with the world’s standard and push storytelling to another level. She is just so intimate with her subjects, spending a great deal of time living with and getting close to them.
The story of Nguyen Thanh Duong is that he’s just a hobbyist photographer but he became really good at street photography. He’s a tour guide in the beach town of Nha Trang, so he has a unique access to Chinese and Russian tourists. His work shows the flood of tourists as well as the city under transformation. He has this distinctive visual style of complex layers and an acute sense of the decisive moment.
You can see more of his work on instagram @chencocot
3. Binh Dang
The reason I put Binh Dang on the list is that he’s had a huge influence on me when I was starting out as a photographer. I tried to google “Vietnam documentary photography” and all the results led to Binh Dang. He was very influential back then. He follows traditional documentary photography, especially in terms of doing a long term project and getting access. He was the one that opened the world of documentary photography for me and his logical, well-researched approach really inspired me. He showed me another point of view.
Kien Hoang Le was one of my early influences but these days I look at his work a lot. He is German and was born and raised in Vietnam but moved to Germany very young. He has a very unique point of view on a story.
He came back to his hometown where his grandparents lived and recorded their daily life as well as the relationships between them in an intimate and touching manner. It totally changed my way of thinking and looking at things. It’s just mind-blowing to see something ordinary, that often slips one’s attention, look so beautiful in pictures. Hi manages to be intimate and curious at the same time.
I got to see Dinh Nguyen’s photos by accident and was immediately captured by their cinematic look: the colour pallette, the light, the composition. The way he perceives the world around him is so beautiful. Despite being an architect, the scenes in his photos are often free, unconstrained and messy, he himself doesn’t follow any rule or standard.
What do you hope to see in the photography scene in the future?
I just want to see more photographers produce different type of works. Somehow it’s quite narrow in Vietnam right now.