Performing and Preserving Memories: Vernacular Photographs in the South Vietnamese Diaspora

This thesis explores how photographs from 1980-1995 of the South Vietnamese diasporic community in Orange County, California communicate selective ideas about exilic identity and memory following the militarized migration of this refugee community fleeing war. Focusing on two case studies drawn from photographs included in the Paul Tran Files and the Project Ngọc Records, the thesis investigates the (in)visible desires of the community and how such desires are (re)produced and mediated through images. Vernacular photographs of commemorative events produced by the community are crucial to our understanding of the visual tropes used to anchor the Vietnamese diasporic identity. Additionally, the photographs themselves function as a means of contesting nation building and for intergenerational transmission of memory. Just as importantly, an examination of the photographs’ multi-temporal and serial qualities reveals how youth are culturally disciplined through the gendered labour of memory keeping.

Thesis presented to Ryerson University in partial fulfillment for the degree of Master of Arts in Photography Preservation and Collections Management.

Navigating Multiple Histories & Discrepancies in Understanding Nineteenth Century Photography in Việt Nam

Photographs of nineteenth century Việt Nam were often the work of French photographers conducting ethnographic and geographic surveys. Their use of photography as a pseudoscience resulted in ethnographic portraits used to study and categorize Vietnamese peoples as “Other.” To disrupt this visual representation, this working paper investigates the potential opportunities and limitations of establishing a historical account of nineteenth century Vietnamese photography. Challenges that arose in my research include: (1) significant discrepancies between the French and Vietnamese conflicting accounts of photography in Việt Nam; (2) further complexities in the Vietnamese national narrative; (3) my reliance on the accessibility of digital collections, language barriers, and geographic limitations. As a result, my work critiques and investigates how these spaces purport and perpetuate a persistent colonial depiction of nineteenth century Việt Nam.

Independent research paper in fulfillment of the requirements of “19th Century Photographic Practices” graduate course.
Paper presented at un-histories: art and the unconcluded at OCAD University in Toronto, ON, March 10, 2018.