“Thirty Days in Vietnam” – Rediscovering A Heritage Through A Visual Diary

VIETNAM | MUNICH | PHOTOGRAPHY

Reading time : 4 minutes

Photographs by Lisa Nguyen
Words by Sharrona Valezka

Published on November 6, 2021

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In 2020, German photographer Lisa Nguyen booked a flight to her parents’ birth country of Vietnam. With a point-and-shoot film camera in hand, she documented her stay in the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh in a series of images starkly titled “Thirty Days in Vietnam”.

Born in Germany to Vietnamese parents, photographer Lisa Nguyen—who now resides in Munich— has always primarily identified herself as German. Working on a new project was an eye-opening experience as it helped her reconnect with her Vietnamese roots. Photography was the key.

When Lisa first began her life in photography, she viewed it as a medium to communicate her thoughts and feelings. Her fondness for the art form grew further as she realized its power as an unspoken form of communication. Through photography, she was able to show and tell stories from her surroundings, particularly those that are more likely to be overlooked. 

Though the dynamism of the photography industry creates an exciting facade, the pressure to always keep up and innovate can be overwhelming for some. Lisa started to notice that the photography scene and the way people view photography itself had changed from what they used to be in the past. The sudden rise of social media has led to high demand for photos that have diluted the original meaning of photography

Feeling burnt out from the constant changes in the industry, she felt the need to rediscover her passion by reconnecting with what she believes is the original meaning and purpose of photography. As a result, she packed her bags and flew on a solo trip to Vietnam to begin her project, “Thirty Days in Vietnam”.

The project is her visual diary during the trip, serving as a memento of the places she visited, the people she met, and the experiences she made.

Her first solo trip not only opened up possibilities for her to explore Vietnam’s culture like never before, but also provided her with the opportunity to meet and work with new people. “Thirty Days in Vietnam” captures the daily lives of the people she encountered and explores every corner of the cityscape, with an emphasis on minuscule details. Lisa also worked with young Vietnamese people in the city who she discovered through social media.

The raw images that her small point-and-shoot film camera captured invoke a genuine and personal connection, one which embraces imperfections. Without having any preconceived plans or setting definite rules, Lisa gained the freedom to convey the stories that the images portray.

“I feel like the pictures I had taken were somewhere in between fashion and documentary photography. It’s very interesting to document the stories that already exist the way they are without needing any alterations,” she explains.

The project is almost an antithesis of her past work in fashion photography, which requires a solid concept that has to be tremendously thought-through to produce a perfect and polished result.

To Lisa, “Thirty Days in Vietnam” is a reflection on her upbringing, culture, and family, with the project being a representation of how her life might look if her parents hadn’t left for Germany. “It’s interesting how most of the people I have met throughout my trip were the same age as myself, yet we were very different individuals in terms of our upbringing, culture, and our aspirations,” she says.

Additionally, the project represents how photography acts as a means of communication that interweaves relationships between different communities, breaking boundaries such as language barriers.

In the end, Lisa’s journey in completing the project has shifted her perspective of her newly re-established passion for photography. “Photography is such a powerful medium to convey untold and unspoken stories through a single image,” she says. “I would like to be able to communicate numerous stories through my photographs as a representation for different communities.”

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