Eye-Level: The Photographs of Jamie Maxtone-Graham


I saw Jamie Maxtone-Graham’s work long before I met him. I didn’t know his was the work I was seeing. This was back in the early 1990s, when Tiana Thi Thanh Nga was taking her highly entertaining documentary “From Hollywood to Hanoi” on the road and came to Berkeley, where I was studying. This was probably the second documentary by a Vietnamese American filmmaker about Viet Nam (the first probably being Trinh T. Minh-ha’s formidable “Surname Viet Given Name Nam”). Anyway, Jamie shot Tiana’s doc as the cinematographer. He also had a hand in shooting Tony Bui’s “Three Seasons” and  Timothy Bui’s “Green Dragon.” But I still didn’t know who he was. Flash forward to the present. Nguyen Qui Duc found out I was coming to Viet Nam this past summer, and asked if I would do a favor for a friend. So that’s how I ended up carrying an expensive camera lens several thousand miles across the Pacific and handing it off to Jamie at Duc’s bar, Tadioto, otherwise known as Rick’s Café Américain for the Hanoi set.


I’m glad I met him. He’s got a great eye, which means more than just being able to take a technically competent photograph. I checked out his photographs before seeing him in Hanoi, and was impressed by his Long Bien series. These are photographs of the people who live around the Long Bien bridge in Hanoi. These are not the kind of people, and this is not the kind of neighborhood, who appear in your Vietnam Airlines travel magazine. Most of the urban neighborhoods in big and small cities look like this one, and most of the people look like these people. That’s what I mean by having a good eye–looking beyond the usual way Viet Nam gets captured in photography, which is, for the most part, about war, tourism, and the anthropology of rural people, especially minorities. So I’m very pleased to show some of his work. He’s been doing feature films, commercials, episodic TV shows, and indie films for over 20 years. Jamie has a few comments below.

– Viet Thanh Nguyen


The photographs here represent a selection of images drawn from four portfolios made in Vietnam beginning in 2007.  I moved to Hanoi that year and began shooting State of Youth, a series funded by a Fulbright research grant about contemporary youth culture in Vietnam.  In some ways, it is a series I have not finished making and elements of it seem to persist in every body of work I have made since without having to work at it.

The series following were Across Long Bien – photographs in the communities adjacent to the Long Bien Bridge, Rented White Gowns – images of public wedding photography, and When Evening Comes – portraits made at night.  All of these works have been made predominantly in Hanoi.

More can be seen at http://www.jamiemaxtonegraham.com

–Jamie Maxtone-Graham











“Eye-Level: The Photographs of Jamie Maxtone-Graham” was originally published on DiaCritics.org on November 29, 2010.

Category: Essays


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