Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Quynh Lam
A Brief History

My uncle was a professor of French but has a hearty love of photography too. Together with the other uncle in my family - who was a reporter and poet - they took many timeless photographs and I learned a lot from his framing and his artistic eyes through his old photographs although I never had a chance to meet him in real life.

After his wartime death his daughter (my cousin) brought all of his cameras to France and now also practices as a photographer. As my family has a strong affinity with photography, I have continued this tradition by working with conceptual photography and archival projects. This has been remarkably therapeutic as I myself never saw many of my relatives postwar in Vietnam. My family moved from the North to the South before the Vietnam war and I myself was born in Saigon after the war. I know nothing about my Northern relatives because of my grandparents’ migration along the length of the country’s map—like many they were affected by the division of Vietnam into north and south. My parents did not want to be reminded of the past, however I was curious about the old black and white photographs and wanted to explore my family’s history, as well as our cultural identity, through this "evidence".

My research returns to "the past" to Hue, the old capital of Vietnam, the location where my uncle explored the historical architectural sites through his photography. Since it was more than 50 years ago, the landscape and environment has changed, so this posed a challenge when searching for his pictured locations.

I am also a performance artist, so I decided to reenact scenes that are depicted in my uncle’s photographs. I took a photograph of myself in the same place with the same posture, mimicking my uncle in his self-portrait photos from the 1950s. Through talking to family members, I learned that my uncle took this series of photos in Hue by himself. So, my practice involved placing myself into his being as much as possible in order to feel close to him (both as his niece and as an artist). This allows me to engage in a conversation with my uncle through photography, as well as to negotiate and share in my family’s experiences of trauma, particularly those that involved being separated by the division of North and South during the time of the war.

Nguyễn Đức Diễm Quỳnh (otherwise known as Quynh Lam) is an interdisciplinary artist working in performance, installation, video, and mixed media. She has exhibited work in Vietnam and abroad; some highlights include The Factory Contemporary Arts Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Art Formosa in Taipei, The Vincom Center for Contemporary in Hanoi, Richard Koh Fine Art Gallery in Singapore, and Mana Contemporary in Chicago, New Jersey and Miami – in partnership with CADAF (Contemporary & Digital Art Fair).