Đổi Mới // Jacques Smit

“I refuse to be defined by the boundaries of my culture. The veil that keeps me shackled to the regressive state of structure. I refuse to be objectified. Through ownership denied. The right to make decisions that benefit only I. In defiance let us sire a horizon without wire. Equals stitched of nails. Solutionists prevail. No commodity. Quantified and sold into propriety. No I am not your property. Devalued by insular society. I am aware I exist.”

– Jacques Smit



//Portraits of graphic artists, hardcore metal stars, gallery curators, hip hop artists, poets, entrepreneurs and everything in-between taken against the backdrop of the 30th anniversary of Đổi Mới, the name given to the 1986 economic reform known as the ‘Renovation Policy’ that would transform Việt Nam//



How did you get involved with the Renovation Generation series and what drew you to this collaboration of capturing portraits of these youths? 

Our icons are mostly old or dead, yet they still dominate society. Because of this, I really wanted to focus on a younger generation of more ‘everyday icons’ impacting their communities etc. My friend Fabiola Buchele was working on a podcast series (the Renovation Generation) on just such a group, so I asked to join and create a visual record of the project. It was very similar to working with a journalist in terms of research and execution.


Can you discuss your photographic process and what you were trying to convey with your portraits?

Some portraits were taken before the interview, others after. In most cases I relied on my interaction with each subject for purposes of inspiration.

Locations were mostly determined in discussion with each subject and depending on how much time everyone had. I wanted it to be a little epic.

Like I said, I tried conveying a sense of the ‘everyday iconic’ while trying to stay clear of the more traditional type of portraiture.


Was there a particular story of one of the subjects that inspired you? How so and how did that change how you approached the portrait?

I enjoyed shooting Nam Lu [portrait 2]. He told me that, “My attitude depends on who you are.” His was the simplest and most naturally dramatic photo in terms of lighting etc. He showed me a couple of his own photo projects. I was really inspired by his simple approach to creating art. And the way he avoids the limelight and usual artist trappings.


Did your involvement in this project lead you to pursue similar work about the new generation in Vietnam or elsewhere in the world?

The Renovation Generation is still a work in progress. Though slightly different, I did do a project with Six Space and The Prince Claus Fund focused on struggling artisan communities along the Red River Delta. It involved young Hanoi artists such as Đào Hồng Mỹ, Trần Thu Hằng, Lê Giang, Ngô Thanh Bắc and Nguyễn Huy An.


The text you wrote for this project is really expressive and poetic, did you write this from your own interpretation of what the renovation generation means or did your subjects inspire these sentiments?

I wrote it mostly from my own interpretation. In the sense of how society forces us into boxes, commodifying who we are. It’s meant to inspire breaking this cycle.



See more in the Renovation Generation podcast series.