Holding Water : Photography of Duy Phuong Le Nguyen from Vietnam

Vietnamese photographer Duy Phuong Le Nguyen (1984) received a degree in photography in 2006 and got selected in 2008 by Jean-Luc Amand Fournier from the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie d’Arles for a three month residency. His photo series ‘Holding Water’ has been in news lately for portraying the lives of the country dwellers of Tri An lake, one of the biggest hydroelectric dams in the south of Vietnam. Duy Phuong worked on this project for many years and brought in a poetic narrative combined with a documentary approach. ‘Holding Water’ has recently been featured in ‘The Guardian’. It has also been exhibited in the annual Angkor Photo Festival during 5-12 December.

DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_02Despite the language barrier, a Q&A with Duy Phuong about his work and photography is below with a selection of images from ‘Holding Water’:

Please tell us about yourself and your relationship with photography:

I was Born in 1984 in Long An, Vietnam. My parents had a photography business to keep the family away from the breadline. Building from scratch, they offered their services for family events and, eventually, they opened their own modest studio. At first, the negative attitude of Vietnamese society towards photographers in general, coupled with the lack of respect shown towards my parents in particular, dissuaded me from following such a profession.

DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_03After mis-spending his youth in Ho Chi Minh City in dangerous games and illegal temptations, I was first attracted by direction and cinema, however, I chose to return to photography, a calling to which I felt was predestined.

What does photography mean to you? What do you want to express from your images and how do you view your evolution as a photographer?

Photography is my life. Especially in Vietnam where there are a lot of interesting things daily, everything I see and perceive I want to transform to my photographs. In my country, photographer is one word with a lot of meaning and different levels. So I don’t want to waste my time in the reaffirming myself time and again. I focus and work quietly.

DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_04How did studying photography at the university help you in work?

Studying photography at the university helped me to organize the photography projects and understand about the history of photography.

Please tell me about the core idea of your project ‘Holding Water’ and its execution and development:

The lake, with both its dreamlike characteristics and the physicality of its landscapes, merges with the people and their existence, all becoming an integral part of my work. I immersed myself in the waters, got carried away by its currents, the way a stranger assimilates himself with the life of the local people, carried away by the intimacy and confidence they shared with him. Water is the spirit that you can only understand by being immersed in it essence.

DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_05Tell us about your methods or critical approaches and challenges of this project?

My style combines documentary approach and staging. The challenge in this project was to turn my thoughts combined with the scenery in Tri An Lake for making a realistic image.

Tell us about your achievements, awards, clients, publications, etc. What kind of installation work do you do?

My ‘Holding Water’ was projected in Angkor Photo Festival last week. And I’m preparing for the solo show in U.S next coming year around Feb.

DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_06Tell me about your favorite photographers, quotes, films books, music etc.:

For now, my favorite artists are PiPo Nguyen Duy, Tran Ngoc Sinh and Tran Anh Hung.

What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, inspirations etc.? How much does the monetization of your work matter to you?

I’m currently running a few of new projects. I won’t reveal right now but my projects always involve my society and things happening around me.

DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_07On the other hand, parts of the series ‘De la Matiere Volatile’ are also available on my website that I will complete and launch. I’ve done this project before ‘Holding Water’. By next year I’ll have had taken seven years in its making.

I use my own money to pay for the trips and the shooting outside. Currently, photography is not profitable for me. But I’m very passionate and I accept what I receive.

DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_08 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_09 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_10 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_11 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_12 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_13 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_14 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_15 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_Installation_01 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_Installation_02 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_Installation_03 DuyPhuong_LeNguyen_Installation_04All photos © Duy Phuong Le Nguyen : Website