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.
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.
After 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.
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.
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.
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.
On 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.
All photos © Duy Phuong Le Nguyen : Website