Young photographer and filmmaker Nguyen Ngoc Tu Dung slows down Saigon through her serenely intimate images.

Finding even momentary silence in Saigon, a city whose heartbeat is unbroken noise and energy, can seem impossible. Photographer Nguyen Ngoc Tu Dung, 23, creates just that with her evocative yet melancholic images. A hobby she picked up at university, the raw intimacy in her photographs is undeniable. The models haunting beauty introduces a softer perspective of life in Vietnam.

In 2017, Dung began working in a production studio. As she continues to grow as a photographer, she hopes to further expand into the field of film photography. Similarly to photography, Dung conveys that, “Everything happened naturally. I love looking at beautiful things and I realised that I am also capable of creating them.”

When we sat down with Dung at Kokoïs, a bustling café in the popular neighborhood of Thao Dien, she emitted the same sense of rawness she so perfectly captures in her images, donning a long black skirt and oversized button-down shirt, which she intentionally wears backward. Her demeanor is soft, but like her images, she expresses ideas of honesty whilst keeping an air of mystery, teasing you with small glimpses of Vietnam through her eyes.

Can you tell us about yourself and your upbringing in Saigon?

I was born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City. I loved growing up in Ho Chi Minh City but it can be quite busy and noisy at times. By making something beautiful, it is my way of escaping the busy city.

When did you become interested in photography?

I’ve always liked photography but I didn’t want to do something everyone else was doing. During my third year at university, my friend and I went on holiday to Da Lat. We were exploring in the wood and I was taking a lot of photos of her. That was my first real experience with photography, and that’s when I realised that I could create something with images. It introduced a new sense of beauty.

What do you enjoy photographing most?

People; my photographs are portraits. When I meet someone, I see something different. After the person is photographed, they see their beauty in a new way. I hope to capture feelings with my photographs so they can remember the way they felt and see the beauty of that moment. I recently got into filmmaking as well, and with film, I hope to capture that same feeling in every frame.

What are your thoughts on the creative scene in Ho Chi Minh City?

The creative scene isn’t ripe yet and that includes me. There is a lot being produced, but it lacks authenticity. I don’t blame the government or how the society is. Take the film industry in Iran, they have plenty of limitations, still, masterpieces are crafted every year. It’s nice to have support from the government or society, but first, the work must come from the creatives.

What are some of the struggles of a young creative in Vietnam and how do you see this changing and evolving?

Right now, young photographers and filmmakers are underground. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to have your work shown. The creative scene is growing and there are a lot of talented creatives, so you will start seeing more of this very soon.

Whose work has influenced you the most?

I’m influenced by my muses or models. I find that I am drawn to artwork created during wartime so I draw inspiration from it.

I also admire the works of Ren Hang and Li Hui. They’re my favorite photographers.

Your style of photography is quite open and emotional. Have you ever had models who felt uncomfortable with this style of photography and do you think this style adds to the meaning
of your photos?

Most of my models are my friends who believe in my work. I wouldn’t take pictures of those who are not interested in my work because it won’t be natural. People often question the meaning of my work but photo tells the story itself, I don’t have to say anything.

Where can someone view your photos?

Some of my photos are on my tumblr and Instagram (@nguyenngoctudung). People usually find me through friends or just hearing about my photographs.

I am also excited to be featured in the upcoming exhibit Sights and Sounds of Saigon.

Dung’s photographs were shown at an exhibit in Singapore, her first short film recently screened at a local independent film festival and she is a featured photographer at the upcoming exhibit Sights and Sounds of Saigon.

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