Interview with Vietnamese Street photographer Minh Pham

My street & documentary photography friend Minh Pham is doing an awesome job documenting and capturing the changes to his city Thanh Da, Vietnam. This is an ongoing project until the new city within Thanh Da is fully developed. Minh does a great job capturing moments that highlight globalization and the rapid changes that’s currently happening in Vietnam and how it’s effecting the everyday citizens.

Can you start off by telling us a (brief) story on your background and how you first picked up a camera?
I was born and raised up in Saigon, located in the South of Vietnam. Since I was a kid, I had always been curious of everything around me. I guess you can say that I like to observe people and my surroundings. In addition, my parents usually showed me their pictures when they were children & pictures they took of me growing up. I always appreciated looking at old family photos and how it moved me or taken me back into time.

In the summer of 2009, my parents and I were on a trip to the center of Vietnam, Da Nang to Hue. My dad gave me a Nokia 6500 Slide on my birthday about a week before the trip. I was so excited because the cell phone had a camera. I spent time to explore all the camera functions & captured every single moment during the trip.

In the tourist group, there was a guy who owned a DSLR saw me captures photos with high concentration. He approached me and we had a small conversation. Few minutes later, I had a chance to experience his DSLR. Having the DSLR in my hands for the first time was quite an experience that I still cannot explain till this day.

A year later, my very first camera was a Canon Rebel T2i. First photographs were focused on the local people who live and work around my residence, Thanh Da.

Tell us about Thanh Da? What was it like? What’s currently happening?

[There’s no place like home] Thanh Da, a place where I was born and raised up for 19 years. It can be compared to a banyan tree which contains most of my old but gold memories since I was kid.

It was a stable upbringing by both my parents, surrounded with good neighbors, and living environment. I would say I was very fortunate to have spent a bulk of my life in Thanh Da. No matter how hard or stressful life could be at that time, I knew everything would be alright because of Thanh Da.

In the summer 2014, news was announced that the city of Thanh Da would be demolished due to the blocks where I lived were bathetic. I thought to myself, It would take long time to get a confirm from the government. However that September, my family moved out from Thanh Da after 19 years living there.
Currently, those blocks were demolished and leave there a huge empty space full of dirt. It’s quite difficult to think about.

Obviously your from Thanh Da but what about that area that inspires you to make photographs of it?

I have been thinking for a long time whenever I come back to Thanh Da and shoot. Sometimes, I just don’t want to face the truth about moving on from Thanh Da.
I don’t want Thanh Da to become a faded memories of my childhood. I come back and shoot Thanh Da with my regret from deep inside my guts.

How do you feel about all these changes in Vietnam?

My family was compensated with two small apartments for the resettlement policy from the Vietnam government. The current circumstance in Vietnam, there are a lot bathetic apartments/residences; however, some places are not receiving full care of the government. Citizens who live in those residence/apartment are not receive high quality compensated resettlement. Some of them are just given a small amount of money as a compensation. Luckily, my family have a roof!

What exactly are you trying to show through your series through Thanh Da?

Thanh Da will be a long term project so I divide it into 3 phases:

+ Phase 1: The Remnant: To depict my regret, what left and slowly disappear in Thanh Da.

+ Phase 2: Transformation: To depict the changes in people life and/or living standard in Thanh Da.

+ Phase 3: Development: Eventually, Thanh Da is going to be a place where buildings and super-malls exist. This phase will show the fast pace of development in Thanh Da and how it effects the citizens of Vietnam. Old things go, new things come.

What’s your overall goal with this project? A book?

A private book also a good idea to collect all the process 🙂

 

I’ve noticed most images of yours are in black and white but others in color. How do you determine what’s left in black and white and what’s left in color?

In my perspective, in street & documentary photography, shooting is to satisfy myself so I usually not intentionally edit the pictures to fit at that moment. I do it based on my feelings.

 

What keeps you motivated?

Simple, photography now is part of my life. I want to contemplate how it change to not have that feeling of regret again. That’s my main motivation.

 

Who are some of your favorite street photographers?

Noppadol Maitreechit (Thailand)

Liu Tao (China)

Werner Bischof (Switzerland)

Aleksey Myakishev (Russia)

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To Follow Minh’s work:

Instagram @phamvietanhminh