Indochina, a geographical word coined at the beginning of the 19th century, originally referred to the region between India and China. As the French colonial influence expanded in the region, they co-opted the term. French Indochine referred to the countries under their colonial governance: Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Inevitably, reflections on the colonial era are mostly negative. There are the deep emotional scars left by over six decades of rule. But it was also a time when cultural values such as traditional performance and art and literature flourished—which is something that inspires modern artists.
Wink Hotels are a disruptive luxury hotel chain that broke ground on their first site in Saigon’s District 1 late last year. Already, they have further developments progressing in Danang and Hanoi. Instead of filling their properties with antiques and references to the old Indochine-era, as upstarts in the industry, they wanted to explore the idea of Indochine 2.0—the current era that they are a part of shaping. To do that they organized a photography competition; to view the concept through the eyes of young Vietnamese creatives.
Here, four of the finalists explore how they are reclaiming the term “Indochine” in their works.
Nhat Ha: Indochine as a modern inspiration
“I hope my work can be an inspiration to other people,” Nhật Hạ smiles as she shows us her work. She began taking photographs as a way to capture her personal perspective on the world around her. Common to her photographs are scenes imbued with a sense of narrative.
“Indochine 2.0 is simply this era we’re living in,” she adds about her desire to portray her daily life authentically through her work. In the photographs she submitted to the exhibition there is a group of friends enjoying their time at a coffee shop, and a table set with food during a trip to Dalat. “The people, the streets, and the cuisine strongly represent Vietnam today,” Ha continues. “These photographs take me back to happy times; they’re like Vietnam to me today—a peaceful place I want to inhabit.”
Quoc Trung: A dynamic mix of old and new
Photography is a natural hobby for the restless traveller. That’s how Quoc Trung began to take photographs—and you can see it in the way his work captures streetlife and landscapes. “I’m in love with the feeling of capturing spectacularly unique scenes, the ones that exist for a blink of an eye,” Quốc Trung explains. It also fills his work with a sense of spontaneity, “because it’s much more special that way.”
“I’ve learned to observe and embrace every valuable moment,” the photographer smiles excitedly. His works often focus on light. A good example is his shot of three Vespa tour guides resting between points on their itinerary while idly exploring the contents of their smartphones. For Quoc Trung, that interplay between vintage motorbikes and modern devices perfectly captures the idea of Indochine 2.0. “The new Indochine is dynamic, but still remains to balance the old and the new,” he adds finally.
Anh Tuan: Photographs with feeling
Photography is a way to record life as it’s lived every day. That’s how Anh Tuan views his passion too. “Most of my work has been inspired by the places I’ve been,” the photographer elaborates. His particular talent is not just in capturing interesting scenes, but in filling them with feeling.
His images are often filled with a sense of nostalgia. Take his shot of Mieu Nhi Phu, a Chinese temple in Saigon’s District 5, as an example. The temple’s rich history dates back around five-hundred years. But it remains a thriving cultural center—which Anh Tuan feels fits the idea of Indochine 2.0 perfectly. “This old Chinese temple reminds us about the importance of preserving historical values in the modern world,” Tuan explains
Ho Kim: Form and femininity
Even as she was studying at university, it became clear to Ho Kim that photography would become her career. At the same time her personal style was forming—one that focuses on modern perceptions of feminine beauty.
“Every woman shines in her own special way,” Kim begins. Her constantly strives to capture that unique beauty. Unlike many of the other photographers in the competition, Ho Kim prepares meticulously. “Preparation is everything,” the young photographer shrugs.
In keeping with her style, Ho Kim wanted to explore the idea of Indochine 2.0 through images of the women who are defining it. And so one of her featured photos was inspired by the women of old Saigon—the ones who still wear ao dai in their daily lives. But the image also portrays a women with short hair, something that is still relatively unconventional here. The photo foregrounds the woman’s face, and her bright intelligent look. “That’s the modern Vietnamese woman,” the photographer smiles.