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[Photos] A Final Family Journey Through Vietnamese Landscapes in the 1800s

This is the third and final collection from my family’s photography archives, and it is also the most important to me. Beyond my family’s colonial past, it is this last series of images that have influenced me the most.

Although they were taken over a hundred years ago – sometime in the late 1800s – a number of the images feature a kind of minimalism and simplicity that wouldn’t seem out of place in a modern photography exhibition. That said, some of my favorites are more quotidian – images of small countryside villages nestled beside mountains.

Historically speaking, many shots are also very telling. One, it seems, depicts a border post, probably a gateway to China, given that my ancestors worked on the railway line in Lang Son. Another shows a completely intact Long Bien Bridge with sampans in the foreground. One more reveals a flooded village, with the bridge still visible far in the distance.

When I discovered these images, I was a photography student nearing the end of my studies, and my focus at the time was landscape photography. During the many long days I spent scanning each of these images and restoring them, I was mesmerized. I would dream about the landscapes they depict, even though I knew I would never see the landscapes as they were then. Nevertheless, these photos were the first link in a chain of events that led me to move to Vietnam. 

Travel back in time once again through this set of family photos.

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