Matca is delighted to have received more than 200 submissions from #matcaspotlight on Instagram, to view new works from new photographers. After the first month of launching this project, we ask cinematographer/photographer Jamie Maxtone-Graham to choose his favorites and give a critique.
First, I want to congratulate the people of matca for creating this necessary platform for Vietnamese photography – it’s an important time for the form and that it is being articulated internally, by and of Vietnamese photographers, is a crucial act in forming a visual and critical identity.
Secondly, I am very grateful to have been invited to participate in selecting some images and to be able to speak about them briefly.
About that I would like to say the following: the selection of images presented here has little to do with any objective sense of ‘good or bad’ and far more to do with what is interesting to me – which is to say, it is only my opinion and should simply be enjoyed as such. The 6 images are presented in an order to encourage a kind of conversation and not in any hierarchy or rating – they are equal among equals. But I think they do illustrate something of the state of photography in contemporary Vietnam against the backdrop of the history of photography and how it has thus far come to be articulated here.
It is this ongoing, internal and critical conversation coupled with a deeper historical understanding of the medium (and the arts in general) that will continue to inform this and each successive generation of photographers.
Thanks very much.
1. Photograph by huyngt.
The great photographer Robert Capa was famously reported to have said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”. This photograph would seem to prove him right – it is good precisely because of the photographer’s proximity to the subject, the woman, coupled with the composition featuring the lower half of a man’s torso on the left and the upper half of a man on the right, both in dark suits. We feel something of the photographer’s relationship to the world as well as discovering something of the world itself for ourselves.
2. Photograph by skinnysiddhartha.
With its subject in the near foreground and a group of people scattered across the background, this photograph has what might be considered – in cinematic terms – ‘the shot’ and ‘the reverse shot’ (point of view) all condensed into the same frame. Looking from somewhat above, the photographer isolates the child in stark relief against the ground as she stares off-lens, at what – we cannot know. Yet somehow, our minds connect the visual elements and somehow complete the picture. The photograph proposes a question that leaves the viewer open to resolve in an active and personal way.
3. Photograph by datvinhtran.
The Thai contemporary photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom made a remarkable series called Waiting For The King (Standing) in 2006 and this photograph has some feel of that work. Here, however, a thin security man in center frame breaks the flow of the people (even as he is one of them) as large buildings rise and loom in the background, the blue of his shirt and the sky nearly blending. It is a moment of stasis and anticipation. For the viewer, a chance to discreetly observe and imagine…
4. Photograph by jackytranfoto.
Here we are presented with a window frame within the camera frame through which we see a young girl and reflected in it a passing male figure. It is a moment among a stream of moments where strangers pass, noticed or unnoticed. The photographer had the acuity to make this record of fleeting time and passing people in a complex visual which actively engages the viewer and perhaps proposes some unknown narrative.
5. Photograph by phamvietanhminh.
Sometimes Capa is wrong and backing up and including more in the frame makes a better image. Here we have a slightly menacing new urban landscape towering behind and above a simple foreground scene of workers and observer. The foreground and background are made distinctive by the palette – cool colored evening sky and building against a warm-toned truck interior and earthen foreground. But the line running along the top of the truck and continuing along the base of the buildings compresses the near and distant spaces making them nearly flat, connected. The stack of items being loaded onto the truck echoing the boxy apartments behind – we feel the soft earth will soon yield to more of those.
6. Photograph by huyngt.
From Burt Glinn to Martine Franck to Guy Le Querrec and so many others, the tradition of photographing the theater dressing room is a long and rich one. The camera can often function in a couple of ways, as we find here – first, the camera can be granted access to generally inaccessable places to those using it. And second, the photographer is always trying – metaphorically – to see beneath the surface (the mask), to try – at a minimum – to disclose something untold and, ideally, to reveal something unknown. Although the faces are largely concealed in this photograph, the angle and repetition of hands and arms, of tilted heads and mirrors, a chin, an eybrow all illuminated by mobile phones cumulatively provide a private moment of human theater with only the photographer for an audience.
Jamie Maxtone-Graham is an American cinematographer / photographer living in Vietnam. He has worked 20 years in the field of cinematography and has been working in Hanoi since 2007. He is currently coordinating filmmaking and photography workshops at Hanoi Doclab.
Connect with Jamie on Facebook.