Today, Vietnam commemorates the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which led to the unification of the country. But the war that killed more than three million people has now become a distant past for a new generation of Vietnamese, including photographer Maika Elan, whose personal photographs reveal a unique look at life inside contemporary Vietnam.
“Americans and Vietnamese still have different perceptions of the war,” Elan tells TIME. “While America [is] still busy with so many other wars, Vietnam is no longer a battlefield. It’s a really peaceful country now.”
Born more than a decade after the conflict had ended, Elan only experienced it through photographs and motion pictures. Her father, although having endured the brutality of war, seldom talked about it but taught his daughter how to “overcome difficulties rather than lamenting or complaining about [the past],” she says. “In my heart, he is always a happy person and full of optimism.”
However, when her father was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, Elan suddenly felt that their roles had been switched. She became his caretaker, and often brought him to the playgrounds and zoos they used to visit when she was a child. There, using a film camera, she double-exposed portraits of her father with landscape photographs she had previously shot, in the hopes of keeping him motivated through his treatment and to encourage him to enjoy nature again.
Elan’s father has since recovered and returned to work, but Elan continues to photograph personal projects anchored around her family and friends when she is not making editorial or commercial work. In the trivial moments of life she captured in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, we no longer recognize the country where so many images from the war remind us of a sad history. She believes, by documenting human-interest stories on a smaller scale, it could help paint a larger image of a country born out of war.
Maika Elan has previously won a World Press Photo award for The Pink Choice, a pioneering photo essay that offers an intimate look into the lives of L.G.B.T. couples still stigmatized in her country.