Vietnam, the destined love for American photographer Catherine Karnow

By Bao Van, TN News

Email Print

A photo by Catherine Karnow shows street vendors in Vietnam. A photo by Catherine Karnow shows street vendors in Vietnam.
US photographer Catherine Karnow has visited Vietnam many times over the past 25 years.
Whenever she comes back, she finds new stories or something she forgot to cover in previous trips.
“My connection and friendship here seem destined. It is meant to be,” she said.
Her photographs taken since the first days she entered Vietnam give viewers a fresh look at the country, which has overcome the war and then come forward with renewed energy.
Karnow, known for her National Geographic works covering the globe over the last three decades, has started shooting Vietnam from 1990s.
Her photos present her view on the changes of the country and its people.
“My knowledge and love of the country is profound. It is an utterly fascinating place, impossible to fully grasp, and always seductive in mystery,” she said.
Some of her passion for Vietnam comes from the father, Stanley Karnow, who was a journalist and creator of the highly rated documentary series “Vietnam: A Television History” (1983). His tie-in book “Vietnam: A History” was a best seller.
But Karnow has found her very own personal relationship with the country’s history and promising future.
In 1994, she was the only foreign photojournalist to accompany General Vo Nguyen Giap on his first return to the forest encampment in Vietnam’s northern highlands. And 19 years later, she joined his family on his funeral procession to his home village in the north-central province of Quang Binh.
The trips were powerful and impressive experiences to her. Talking about her memory when joining Giap’s funeral, she said: “When we landed in Quang Binh Province, I rode on a bus with the extended family members and friends, leaning out the window to photograph the people lining the route."
"I was astounded to see that many people were holding up my portrait of the General, one I had taken in 1994. I was deeply moved, sensing my place of belonging here in the country, so far from my own.”
Karnow has visited many countries, but Vietnam is the only one bringing her a warm feeling. She is especially impressed with the country’s young generation, who come forward, blazing with renewed energy and a passion for life. 
I was deeply moved, sensing my place of belonging here in the country, so far from my own.”
“Vietnam has entered the soul of Catherine and at each juncture as she forms relationships, often lasting friendships, with her subjects, we see not only the transformation of the country but also the photographer herself. Her photographs show her deep love for the country and its people,” said Suzanne Lecht, Curator and Art Director of Hanoi-based Art Vietnam Gallery.
To celebrate her last 25 years in Vietnam, Karnow has organized a photograph exhibition in Hanoi.
The 40 photographs displayed at the “Vietnam – 25 years: Documenting a Changing Country," from April 10 to May 8, are intimate stories about Vietnam.
The country, in the 1990s, were humdrum in colors with the image of people, after a day’s work in Ho Chi Minh City, waiting for the ferry to take them back to their rural villages across the river, a fisherman plying the waters in an early morning fog in Ha Long Bay, and the last aristocratic family of Emperor Bao Dai.
A few years later, achievements of the doi moi era helped her take more unique photographs, portraying a country with doors opening to international trade. Coca Cola billboards were seen at every corner of Hanoi, and King’s Island Golf Course in the city attracted mostly foreign businessmen and diplomats.
Newest photos show a developing Vietnam with brazen consumption and extravagant lifestyles.
The photos have helped viewers not only remember the past but also inspire them look forward to a nice future, Karnow said, hoping that she would continue having strong attachment to the country via photography projects here.

More Arts & Culture News