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March 2015 issue
by Catherine Karnow
April 30, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war. In commemoration of this important date,
Catherine Karnow will be having her largest exhibit ever at the Art Vietnam gallery in Hanoi, opening April 10. Here is
a sneak preview of some of her photographs taken from 1990 - 2015, the years marking the most change in Vietnam.
When I first went to Vietnam in 1990, I saw hardship everywhere I looked. There was this deep sadness I could see in
people’s eyes. It was the oppressive regime, years of poverty, families separated by escape or “re-education camps,”
and the extreme isolation from the rest of the world. In the nineties, Vietnam started to emerge. Coca-Cola came to
Vietnam. The Hanoi Opera House had its first fashion show; the bikini-clad models shocked the audience. Vietnam
Airlines opened a school for flight attendants. Yet legacies of the war, such as Amerasians and Agent Orange,
remained, and still remain. Now Vietnam is a country zooming into the future as fast as possible. Saigon, a city of
youth, has chic bars and suburbs that look like Orange County. And those who escaped - the Viet Kieu - are returning
in droves, and bringing with them a whole new kind of energy, especially in the arts and film. Yet an oppressive
regime remains. The jails are filled with bloggers, and censorship is as brutal as ever. The future of the country is still
very much unknown.
Please consider giving to these two wonderful NGOs who really make a difference in Vietnam. Children of Vietnam
helps take care of children and families with Agent Orange afflictions and DOVE builds schools, clinics and much
more. I have spent time with both groups and they are truly life-changing.
Consider taking a photo workshop in Italy with Catherine catherinekarnowphotoworkshop.com
Old junks, now a rarity, ply the waters in Halong Bay, a Unesco World Heritage site comprising over 2000 islands
made of limestone karsts.
In Central Vietnam, a schoolteacher rides the Saigon-Hanoi train, also known as the Reunification Express, because it
connects North and South Vietnam.
In Central Vietnam, a family waves good bye to their relatives whom they fear they will never see again; Vietnam was
so isolated in 1990 that this was a real possibility.
Left: renowned writer Bao Ninh, who wrote The Sorrow of War, the first book published in Vietnam to recount the
brutality and horror of war, countering the government’s propaganda. Right: double agent Pham Xuan An, who was
working for Time magazine, while covertly spying for the Communists during the war.
1990: A teacher teaches a student how to breathe properly during a swimming class at the former Cercle Sportif, a
fancy country club before 1975, Saigon.
A farmer and his cow; in the countryside, even in 2010, poverty is still rampant.
A bride appears troubled on her wedding day, Dalat.
Although things are slowly changing, wives are still
subservient to their husbands.
At the first fashion show in Hanoi, the “lighting technician” uses a rudimentary light that he simply turns on and off with
The audience was shocked to see models in bikinis at Hanoi’s first fashion show in 1994.
Coca Cola comes to Vietnam, 1994.
1994: Vietnam Airlines opens up new routes and a school for flight attendants.
In 1995, a young Amerasian girl and her grandmother leave Saigon for the U.S. With only a photograph of the
American father and his first name the grandmother is hopeful they can locate him.
In Danang, Tan Dong massages Tan Hau's legs before exercising his son in the walker. Both his sons are afflicted with
diseases associated with Agent Orange. They cannot walk and have limited mental abilities.
US vets and members of the DOVE group, which promote humanitarian efforts in areas especially affected by the war,
give out PET carts to those disabled by land mines, war or Agent Orange, giving people their mobility back for the first
The trendy Chill Bar is a mecca for Saigon’s fashion elite as well as returning Vietnamese and expats.
Vendors from the countryside, bathed in a blue light from the Saigon Centre’s Christmas “Finding Nemo” theme, gaze
at goods they will never be able to afford. The disparity between rich and poor is growing in Vietnam.
“Let Hoi Decide” a slapstick comedy, with a huge Viet Kieu cast and crew, and a self-identified transgender in the
central role, has become the top grossing film in the country, earning over US$3.85 million – a huge sum for a
These activist bloggers are hiding out in a church and being surveilled by a guy across the street who hangs out all
day in a cafe. The government is having a hard time controlling the internet. They have blocked Facebook and many
international publications. However, people know ways around this. I feared for my own safety going to visit them, but
I was told that no harm would come to me in Vietnam. However, the next time I wanted to come back into the country,
my visa might be mysteriously denied.
A model wears the “pho” (noodle soup) dress at a fashion
show at Chula, an upscale boutique on Hanoi’s West