For our first-ever Booooooom Photo Awards we selected 6 winners, one for each category: CLIMATE, PEOPLE, PLACES, THINGS, SERENDIPITY, COMMUNITY. Here is our interview with COMMUNITY Winner Van-Nhi Nguyen.
Van-Nhi is a Vietnamese photographer and artist based in Hanoi, Vietnam. She studied Graphic Design at Liverpool John Moores University. While drawn to documentary photography, Van-Nhi is always looking for ways to introduce different approaches. For her, the medium is about reconstructing memories. Whether her own or that of a larger community, Van-Nhi sees these memories as the bridge between the urgency to remake societal geographies and their rigid histories. She pays particular attention to overlooked places, people, and the positions in which they find themselves.
What is the story behind your winning image?
While Vietnam represents for many in the West a place where a war was fought or athletic shoes are made, its people bear witness to a richer & far more complex reality. To expand and challenge the existing perceptions of Vietnamese people, it is to be able to see and understand the unruliness of it, through the excess of memories bestowed physically in this country; some given prominence through statues or architectures, while others are left to obliteration; the bodies become vessels for memories.
In the midst of the mayhem is the serene, a chaos masked by the dark of the late afternoon so to highlight the men’s naked body against the dark and ominous surrounding of a rural Hanoi riverside. Through carefully choreographed semiotics, the two can represent the current generation of people in Vietnam against their seemingly unchanged one party government, the existing narrative of them that exists before they can change it.
What are your eyes being drawn to lately?
It will always be towards the quotidians and our collective memory.
What do you most enjoy looking at through your viewfinder?
I actually don’t look through it at all. I try to minimize it to just having my subject in focus, that’s all. I believe photography is not a tool for me to use but that I am its tool, a brilliant thought from my fellow Viet photographer, Mien-Thuy Tran. I think that once one rid themselves of this belief that there must be something to achieve when you make a photograph, then it finally will become something you enjoy and be successful at. The process of getting to know someone, falling in love with the person and the place that you are in, it will all come together — you are the tool and photography is just there to look.
Who else’s images are exciting you these days?
My friends’ work. I am very lucky to become friends with a lot of photographers who are so talented- Natthaya Thaidecha, Gab Mejia, Arhant Shrestha and Duy Dao. They all have such unique and different ways of looking and asserting themselves in the space they are in and are always evolving in such unpredictable and divine ways.
What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you (and who gave it to you)?
You have to let photography use you! This is by Mien-Thuy Tran, a fellow photographer who helped me so much in seeing better.
Finish this sentence: “For me, photography is…”
A medium for one to question and confront one’s own environment and its larger context.
What’s one thing you’d like to accomplish in the next year or so?
I would love to be able to work on my projects full time, see where and who these projects will lead me to see. Having that freedom to look without any constraint, obsessively.
What about one thing you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime?
Publishing a book!