Ones To Watch: Mien Thuy

Coming back from Angkor Photo Workshop & Festival 2019, Matca strikes a conversation with Mien Thuy, a young Vietnamese photographer chosen to join this year’s workshop. Her workshop project, titled Sisyphus’ sleepwalking, is her way to come to terms with the challenges of transitioning into adulthood. Thuy shares with us her experience there, which she considers a personal milestone with memories that will last a lifetime.

How does this project idea come about?
This idea had always been on the back of my mind; I was always turning it over but not able to really work on it. I also stopped taking photographs for about a year due to personal issues and didn’t know where to start.

In the first two days of the workshop, I was wandering around and collected images that might fit with the proposed topic. But this was not how I work, so the approach was not really efficient. My mentors Kosuke Okahara and Veejay Villafranca advised me to start with myself, since the topic came directly from myself. I wanted to find a model but couldn’t. Hitting a dead end, on the third day, I decided to take self portraits.

Angkor Photo Workshop is known as a place where all students have to overcome their own limits. What’s your experience like?
I have had a lot of first times here. It was my first time shooting naked in front of another person and outdoors, I was so afraid that the neighbors would find out. I later learnt that the CCTV have recorded everything. It was a really interesting experience and I have no regrets.

Surprisingly, everybody was willing to help me. I was lent a camera suitable for taking self portraits, a tripod, a mirror, even a hotel room as the location, and a friend was helping me to press the shutter. I was not alone when working on this project.

The intense workshop has forced students to motivate themselves and focus all their resources in a short amount of time, in order to have a breakout and do what they used to find impossible.

What is your visual approach to a subject that deals with the private realm like this?
During the workshop, I started to have skin rashes due to some allergy. But it was helpful in visually translating my struggles, so I photographed my body. A few images were based on my personal experiences, such as the time when I couldn’t accept my own reflection in the mirror, or cut my hair every morning because of unbearable stress.

What have you learnt from your mentors, who are veteran documentary photographers?
Up until now, I still can’t figure out why I was chosen to be in this group, as my practice is quite conceptual and often involves setting up, while all other students are doing documentary projects. But Kosuke and Veejay are really perceptive and profound. They both understood what I needed and what was lacking. They encouraged me to listen to myself and pointed out that the photographs would take shape after I knew myself. They pushed me to overcome my hesitance to express what I truly wanted to, while still letting me stay honest to my own emotions.

Right now, what is photography to you?
I am now able to confront and speak of my personal story, one that I didn’t have the courage nor the ability to share with photographs. On the last day here, I had my head shaved and felt really happy because this is really me.

To me, photography used to be just an instinct. But instincts are often unstable, and now I want to keep photography close to me like my own breath.

As a self-taught photography practitioner, Mien Thuy is interested in our inner worlds, hidden connections, liberation and life and death. Thuy is on her way to understand and define herself in photography.
Connect with Thuy on Instagram.