Lê Công Kiều Street, located in district 1, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), is known today as the antique street. It was once a small alleyway until 1920 when the French widened it into a street and named it Rue de Reims. In 1955, the Saigon government renamed the street to Lê Công Kiều, after a military commander who led a resistance movement against the French in the mid-1800s. Antiques had been sold on this street prior to 1975, and the locals referred to the area as chợ Kiều (Kieu market).
This small street is only 200 meters long (merely the length of one block), hosting a cluster of small shops filled with antique merchandise including colonial memorabilia, old coins, vintage cameras, old photographs and letters, ceramics, furniture, and other curios and reproductions. The street is a time capsule, holding and releasing bits and pieces of information linking to historical events alongside intimate memories. A popular destination for tourists and visitors, it’s been reported that in 2000, during her first visit to Vietnam, Hilary Clinton went shopping on the street.
When I frequented the street in 2004, there were stacks of black and white photographs displayed in glass cases and in cardboard boxes. I remember feeling so much excitement going through the mounds of photographs but was also overwhelmed by the thousands of images and having to make decisions on which to buy as I couldn’t purchase them all. More than just intriguing photographic objects, they were displaced memories. The owners of these photographs had left their homes in much the same way that my parents left theirs, with just what they could carry in a couple of bags or suitcases. These photos and many of the items that ended up on Lê Công Kiều Street after 1975 came from these abandoned homes.
Over the years, tourists, collectors, and artists purchased many of these photographs. When I revisited the street in 2008, there were no more found photos sold in any of the shops. Looking at the collection now brings me mixed feelings of joy and appreciation for the images and a yearning for the people in the photos to be recognized and reunited with their owners and loved ones.