Travel & Life - May 21, 2018 | 06:00 am PT

Urban lens: Saigon is not just a noun, Saigon is a persona

The magic of the city is unveiled through its most spontaneous moments.

It is easy for anyone to forget the beauty of the surrounding world as they are absorbed in their busy daily routine.

A group of Ho Chi Minh City-based young photographers is determined to change that, transforming ordinary moments they encounter into magical frames of their beloved city.

Photo by Nhat Quang

It all started in 2014 when a photoblog of street portraits named Humans of Saigon was launched on Facebook, the most popular social media platform in Vietnam.

“We were inspired by the guy behind the page Humans of New York,” Du Tran Nhat Quang, the team’s spokesman told VnExpress International, referring to the now-famed photographer Brandon Stanton.

“Just like New York, Saigon too is a city of migrants,” Quang added. “And we believe each of them has a fascinating story to tell.”

Ever since, photos and even videos of hundreds of people in Saigon have been posted onto the page, captioned with a small conversation-like story from the character.

After four years, Humans of Saigon has attracted nearly 137,000 followers while the team has tripled from two to six members who venture to streets and alleys to photograph and interview the city’s ordinary people and chronicle its vibrant street life.

A photo posted on Humans of Sài Gòn on January 6 2018. The caption reads, “I need only a loaf of bread to get through the day but the cat gotta have 30 thousand dong worth of food.”

Earlier this May, the team decided to go for a slightly different take from their regular works: bringing together unpublished photos of not only Saigon “humans” but also corners of the city itself and display them at a small exhibition named Chạm, or Touch.

“Photos in the exhibition are a collection of spontaneous moments that our members captured either on the street, in their neighborhood or as we marched out to find stories,” Quang told VnExpress. “Photos that we believe deliver the characters of Saigon.”

Photo by Minh Pham

For that reason, the team decided not to share the stories behind the snaps so each viewer can be free to interpret them in their own way.

Photos by Toan Thang

Through their lens, Quang said the team hopes the audience can feel closer to the city and imagine it as a person with their own breath of life, who can feel and touch.

"I am just a charity first-aid box, please don't break me," the sign says. Photo by Nhat Quang
Photo by Minh Pham

“We usually tell one another that Saigon is not a noun,” The Chạm/Touch exhibition’s introduction reads. “Saigon is a persona, a way of life, and Saigon even has its own unique life.”

Photo by Minh Pham

Utterly captivating and intriguing, the diverse works of six Humans of Saigon photographers, Minh Pham, An Du, Toan Thang, Bam Tran, Thu Trang, and Nhat Quang crack open the busy and crowded layer of the vast city, giving us raw yet relieving moments of daily life that we usually miss.

Photo by Toan Thang
Photo by Minh Pham
Photo by Minh Pham
Photo by Bam Tran
Photo by Thu Trang

Discover more of their arresting imagery displayed at the Chạm/Touch exhibition.

Place: Toong Minh Khai, Floor 2, Block C, ITAXA Tower

Time: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m., from May 10 - May 30

Free entrance

Photograph courtesy of Humans of Saigon.

Nhung Nguyen