Updated: Jul 6, 2021
In 2003, I was in Vietnam for four months to continue my photographic work on family and identity. While in Ho Chi Minh City, I saw an installation of found photographs by Sue Hajdu and Dinh Q. Le exhibited in a small gallery. The show was entitled "Qua Bến Nước Xưa," roughly translated, Crossing Waters of the Past. It's a well-known first line in a classic Vietnamese song "Nắng Chiều" (Afternoon Sun), with an upbeat tempo contrasted by nostalgic, mourning lyrics of idyllic countryside and past love. The installation is of a wooden bridge stretching over a shallow indented space on the floor depicting a body of water filled with strewn photos. A hot pink beaded curtain hung at the beginning of the bridge as a passage into the past.
I was deeply touched by the installation. Though the symbolism of loss connected to the war was obvious, the lyricism of the photos told stories of intimate lives and experiences thriving alongside the war. These photographs evoked a sense of space between dreams and daily life. Each photo is a portal that collapsed time, bringing into the present the emotions infused in the image. It was the intimacy in these photographs that was left behind and displaced by war that I recognized and moved by.
A year later, in 2004, when I went back to Vietnam for a year-long stay, I was introduced to more of these found photographs in second-hand / antique shops in Ho Chi Minh City. I collected nearly 1,000 photos and periodically worked with them over the past seventeen years. But it's only been recently that I feel these photographs wanted to be appreciated individually and as a collective experience. The ease of access to online presence and social media platforms make it possible now for these photographs to be experienced boundlessly in the stories they hold.