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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
Jamie Maxtone Graham
When Evening Comes: Night Market Portraits
The photographs in this body of work came to be out of a couple of different but complimentary impulses. The first was a simple curiosity of what the Long Bien night market in Hanoi, Vietnam – where I have lived since 2007 – actually looked like at night. I have often been past the market during the day when it is closed and very little, if anything, is ever happening. It is, in fact, asleep. I found it is an entirely different place after night falls.
The second, more personal, challenge for myself was to make photographs in a different mode – both technically and aesthetically – and to engage the subjects, the people who work and even live in the night market, in a manner that required collaboration and ultimately a trust. I wanted to bring some of the aesthetic of the studio into the street and to do this at night in this venue – a rough wholesale fruit and vegetable market in a tough section of the city near the Red River – seemed both absurd and entirely logical. I like that kind of friction.
On a separate note, there are a couple of other ideas at work here for me. In the West, ‘Vietnam’ continually connotes a war long over and other socio-political issues which often seem to sublimate the very “everydayness” of the place. With as little prejudice as I am capable of, in this series I wanted to just look and be looked back at by people with no more overt agenda than just that. These people photographed and I developed some relationship both in the moment we made the image and in the weeks I regularly returned, always with their portrait as a gift. I also had in mind to embrace some tone of a 19th or early 20th colonial portraitist (in Indochina they were typically French and I admire a lot of that work) and so I tried to adopt a somewhat neutral distance and attitude with the camera while looking for something that expressed the nuance of this time, these people, this place.
I have been a cinematographer working originally in New York and then in Los Angeles on feature films, commercials and episodic television but also with strong exposure to documentary and independent films as well. I began coming to Vietnam in 1990 to shoot a documentary and have returned many times in the two decades since on other non-fiction and narrative films and for personal work too.
In 2007-08 I became a Fulbright Research Fellow after receiving a grant funding my proposal to photograph contemporary youth culture in Vietnam. My wife, our young daughter and I continue to live in Hanoi and I have made several other portfolios of photographs in that time (When Evening Comes is the most recent) while pursuing commercial and narrative film work in the region. A selection of this body of work exhibited at The Bui Gallery in Hanoi in February and March, 2010.