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Freelancer cameraman is hard to please

Update: September, 03/2017 - 09:00
Drawn together: Linh Phạm is a co-founder of Matca (Fisheye) project which aims to create a platform for photographers and visual artists in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of Linh Phạm
Viet Nam News

Phạm Hà Duy Linh, or Linh Phạm as he is simply known, is a freelance photographer whose images have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He was one of six photographers selected by US media giant CNN to join the My HaNoi programme last year. The passionate photographer is also a co-founder of the Matca (Fisheye) project which aims to create a display space to inspire Vietnamese photographers and visual artists.

Linh Phạm speaks with Hồng Vân about his path to photography and a new programme recently launched by Matca.

Inner Sanctum: What brought you to photography given that your major at university was Multimedia? What was your exposure to photography before college? 

In my early youth, I had a special interest in photography and researched its history but I never thought that it would become my career. In my final term at university, I saw a documentary called War Photographer, which was about legendary photographer James Nachtwey. His strong urge to bring unknown stories to the world inspired me and made me determined to become a photojournalist.

Inner Sanctum: Did you pursue any formal education or training on photography then? You have had several images published in international newspapers, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. So how did you reach out to these big entities?

I didn’t attend any formal classes on photography. For basic photography, I mostly learned it by myself. Later I took part in professional workshops, but I think I learned the most by shadowing experienced photographers in the field.

Working as a freelancer, one has to do everything by one’s self. I had to personally reach out to editors through networking, being introduced by friends and at photography festivals.

Inner Sanctum: As a freelance photojournalist, you have travelled to different regions in the world. Of them, which location has provided the most inspiration?

Cuba and Myanmar are two countries that impress me. Both are poor, but the people are very open and warm-hearted, their spiritual life is rich and diverse. There are so many things to discover about them that are overlooked and understated by the international media. Cubans are genuinely generous and full of energy. Meanwhile, the orderly Myanmar is full of mysteries.

Inner Sanctum: You are a founder of Matca, a project with rich insights and opinion about photography. How did you come up with the idea? After nine months in operation, Matca has become a favourite gathering space for Vietnamese photographers. What is responsible for this success?

At the time I began my career as a freelance photographer, I became very lonely. There was no one to share my photographic passion, there were no role models for me to learn from. There are so many photographers out there, but  I couldn’t find a place where people could be open and frank, where people dared to experiment and to accept failure. This is the reason why my friends and I launched Matca, which has become a photographic haven. The founders of the project, including myself, Mai Nguyên Anh and Đạt Vũ, have all had opportunities to receive some professional training abroad, so we want to share and spread what we have learned.

And Matca has been received positively by creating a healthy platform for photographic exchanges and feedback based on knowledge, practice and the different resources available.

Inner Sanctum: On July, Matca held Xem Ảnh Buôn Chuyện (Portfolio Review with Matca) programme, where individuals could send their photos and receive constructive feedback from professional photographers and photojournalists from Matca. This was a free service. So how did it originate?

After creating an online platform for a few months, we decided to create more real interaction. We wanted to use part of our knowledge to inspire a passion for photography in other people. We ourselves can also from participants and their images. This creates two-way exchange session.

Inner Sanctum: On its website, Matca also features images of young photographers, followed by a full story line. It seems the story behind the image should be given more emphasis than the visual element.

The story behind these works and the creativity of each photographer are given equal importance. Through them, readers can have insights from the image makers themselves, rather than just engaging with the works on a visual level. You can master the skill of taking photos within a month to a year. But this doesn’t mean that you are a true photographer. To me, photography is a visual language. Knowing that you can write does not mean that you can write an epic novel. And photography is something that reflects the photographer, so to take a good photo, you should have deep knowledge on different fields, say culture, fine arts and philosophy.

Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, what improvements do Vietnamese photographers need to make?

They need to develop a foundation of knowledge on visual arts.

Inner Sanctum: Are you currently working on any project?

Matca is working to expand its network and diversify genres of photographs featured. We also plan to launch a group exhibition next summer. When things in the Matca project settle down, I will hide for a while to work on personal projects. This year, I have been so busy that I haven’t been able to do anything for myself. VNS

 

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