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Mitch Epstein


A photographic odyssey through modern-day Vietnam.
...When I left Vietnam after my first trip I was relieved to go. The rough roads, the poverty, the Kafkaesque communications with government officials had drained and depressed me. But a year later and again and again, I felt pulled to return to Hanoi. It was and still is a pull I find hard to define. From my journals and letters it is clear that I was wedded to the intense, bittersweet world I encountered there:

"I've been thinking about greed, and often photographing people on the street counting money. And the color red. A roasted red pig. Red Flags. Red Cinderella slippers, and the red color of chicken blood dripping into a rice bowl."

"The five kilometer climb up to the cave temples was long, hot, and difficult. Sweat and more sweat. I carried my tripod, remembering the cavernous chamber by the Buddhist temple, where a soft light filters down through fern trees and mixes with the smoke of ten thousand burning joss sticks. Again and again we pass pilgrims chanting na mô a di dà phát. I wore hiking boots and fell on the wet mountain footpath five times, while my sixty year old host, in plastic sandles, made the climb effortlessly."

"I went to a market in the old quarter to buy flowers for a friend's art opening (everyone brings bouquets to openings in Hanoi). I walked through the fish and meat lanes. I am repulsed and challenged by the endless displays of animal organs. My shooting feels more intimate and sometimes frightening. I am playing with the 'still life'—to find a way to give it its own temperature. Moving in closer with the camera. The beauty-devil is no longer the problem."

—Mitch Epstein, from Vietnam: A Book of Changes