Read with Us #09: Finding and Seeing Work in Photography

Read with Us #09: Finding and Seeing Work in Photography

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07 am – 07 pm, 01 Apr – 12 May 2024
Floor 2, Sóng Sánh Cafe
48 Ngọc Hà, Hà Nội

From the organizer:

Read with us #9 is back with a new photobook selection of seven titles on the topic of labor, exploring both Vietnam and global contexts.

Amidst a climate of job insecurity that pervades the news and daily conversations, I begin to look for representations of work in photography, wondering how the medium can help make sense of a mundane, yet fundamental concern to all of us: making a living.

Exploring issues of visualizing labor, the publications here shed light on individual experiences of work or capture work as reflections of broader socio-economic conditions. They provide glimpses into labor activities at various times and places, situating them in larger developments like globalization, (de)industrialization, and policy reforms. Labor plays a vital role in shaping the identity of a person, a community, or even a country. Beyond mere documentation, this heterogeneous iconography of work encompasses multiple aspects that make the act of labor possible, gratifying, or unbearable.

Two collections of photos from state-supported contests, published over an interval of nearly two decades, show how the pictorialist tradition in Vietnam’s photography persists in glorifying the “beauty of labor” to highlight the success of government policies such as trade liberalization or rural development. Moving beyond national borders, we look into the microhistory of labor migration through pensive portraits of different generations of Vietnamese returnees from Germany, captured with care in Heimat / Que huong (2012). While the search for better opportunities often drives people to find work overseas, it remains a challenge to reconcile the realities of migration with the human need for belonging. In a globalizing economy, sometimes it’s not people but commodities that move across borders. Diamond Matters (2007) takes us on an intercontinental journey, from African mines to jet-set parties in some of the world’s wealthiest cities, that renders visible all types of jobs involved in diamond manufacturing and distribution.

Delving into family history, three personal documentary projects unfold intimate narratives about the realities of working-class life in three locations: Pennsylvania (US), Switzerland, and Singapore. In The Notion of Family (2016), Corbeau (2017), and We Were Farmers (2021), photographs together with text and family archives reveal the physical and emotional repercussions of labor-intensive occupations like metallurgy and small farming. Bearing witness to the disappearance of certain kinds of labor, these stories also reflect structural changes that shape the options for livelihood among particular communities.

List of titles:

Cuộc thi ảnh về thị trường lần thứ 1, 3, 4 – Báo Sài Gòn Tiếp Thị (1996, 1998, 1999)
Nét đẹp phụ nữ trong lao động, sản xuất qua góc ảnh nghệ thuật – Sở Văn hóa và Thể thao TP.HCM (2015)
Heimat / Que huong – Nora Bibel (2012)
Diamond Matters – Kadir Van Lohuizen (2007)
The Notion of Family – Latoya Ruby Frazier (2016)
Corbeau – Anne Golaz (2017)
We Were Farmers – Ore Huiying (2021)

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