Calmness in Sight
Select Photographs From the “By the Roadside” Exhibition by Michael Nguyen10 min read by
Artistic photography today moves quite differently than it did a few decades ago as a visual force and communicative intervention. This is amid an overflowing stream of images whose production, administration, and dissemination have long since run out of control of conscientious management. After film, television, computers, it is above all the smartphone that has catapulted us into a new visual age. Often, the challenge is to give the eyes an occasion to linger between their unsteady jumps from image to image. Michael Nguyen succeeds excellently in creating such an occasion with his photographs by creating clarity of vision and a challenge of interpretation through reduction and focus.
The live exhibition of these images — and many more — will be held between March 8 and May 5, 2022, at Bosco Gauting (30min west of Munich).
About me, my work, and my inspirations.
I am a photo artist and documentary photographer living near Munich, Germany. I’ve been photographing things and people since 1988. I’ve been living in Munich since 2007 and moved to Gauting near Munich in 2015. Most of the time, I focus on small, ordinary things but through the subjective lens, giving them new perspectives.
I roamed various cities in Bavaria during the Corona pandemic. My focus since COVID-19 became the pandemic is urban landscapes as well as urban spaces in different cities. Urban spaces can all enrich the life between buildings. However, because of the virus, social interaction in the urban landscapes with their spaces has lain fallow. I try to convey this feeling through the eery emptiness in my photographs.
“Our head is round so that thinking can change direction” — this quote by writer and artist Francis Picabia inspired me to pursue art as a young man. Art broadened my perspectives and saved my soul. In the 1980s and 1990s, I was a journalist, poet, photographer, cultural organizer and bookseller. After almost two decades of departure from my creative pursuits, I found my way back to art in the dark times of my life in early 2018. Once again, art has saved my soul.
Before I could consider myself lucky to work as an artist again, medical nursing was my vocation. While working in the intensive care unit and the emergency room, I was confronted with great suffering and death. This had a strong impact on my photographic work. Many of my images, as one can see, are melancholic and sometimes a little bit dark.
I first got into photography when I was a journalist for art and culture. One of my main subjects was “Greece.” Then, in close cooperation with Dr. Matthias Harder, now Director of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, we laid the foundation for understanding the photographs of Herbert List and Walter Hege in a magazine I worked for. Since then, photography has opened up a whole new world to me.
For some personal reasons, I withdrew from art for the following two decades. But since 2018, I have dedicated myself completely to artistic creation again, starting with restoring the past. In 1996, due to water leakage in the basement of my house, many negatives from the years 1988 to 1996 were damaged. I spent months of 2018 on restoring them. The results were my first creative project series in many years: “Historical Umbria” (1988), “Historical Prague” (1992), “Historical Berlin - Love Parade and CSD” (1992), “Historical Paris” (1994) and “Indonesia” (2005). All of a sudden, I was on my way back to becoming a photographer.
There are many interpersonal relationships of varying complexity that I consciously perceive in my environment that I immerse myself in and that shape my way of seeing. I get inspired by little things that most of us don’t notice in everyday life. Death and illness have always had a great influence on my life and my artistic work; today, I look at the world of life around me with great appreciation.
The most important tools of my work are, of course, the eyes and ability to perceive things. I sometimes shoot with very simple devices, like a point-and-shoot camera or a smartphone.
Some projects are created during my travels spontaneously and without planning; others require a lot of preparation. I visit certain spots very often, studying the surroundings and the light until I decide at which hour I take photographs at that place. I then decide in which format the pictures should be published later.
I then use various software to create the desired look. My real artistic work, especially in the colour department, begins during post-production. I work on my images until I have reached the mood, the sound, the effect, the emotion, and the meaning I want to express. Only then the photo can become a “painting” that I can reveal to world with all its beauty and horror.
COVID-19 changed the world. The future of humankind looks gloomy. We destroy the environment and focus primarily on economic profit; many people think exclusively of themselves, and it shows that a peaceful coexistence during the pandemic is difficult to make. Certainly, this lockdown time has created a unique and strange situation and also great opportunities for artists and creators to capture the essence of the changed world. I’ve been observing the behaviour of people intensely, the interaction between us and our activities as we go through the series of lockdowns. I’ve been looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.
I had the great fortune to have the freedom to realize most of my creative wishes and plans. Even though, due to health restrictions and a small budget, I cannot travel far and work on big projects. My greatest wish is to make a reportage about the cities, life, human conditions in the metropolises like Saigon and Hanoi. Hopefully, it will be possible someday.
You can learn more about my work and find more photographs on my website, here. I also edit an online magazine for photography and art, Tagree.