A Photographer’s Personal Look at Vietnam 40 Years After the War

2 minute read

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.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is a senior international photo editor at TIME. Ye Ming is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Hanoi's street in the summer afternoon.05.2010
Hanoi's street in an afternoon in May, 2010. Maika Elan
The image of my father lying on the lawn of Bach Thao park, Hanoi, is overlaid by a picture of sunset at the mountains of Da Lat, Viet Nam, August, 2013. Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
A bedroom decorated with flowers in an apartment located in Hanoi's old quarter, Feb. 1, 2010. Maika Elan
My husband portrait
A portrait of my husband. Maika Elan
People gather to do  exercise in the early morning at Hoan Kiem Lake, the heart of Hanoi. 08.2011
People gather to exercise in an early morning at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, August, 2011. Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
A room decorated with colorful lanterns in an old house in Hanoi, Sept. 9, 2009. Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
A family watches television in its house located in the old quarter of Hanoi, Dec. 20, 2010. Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
A wall decorated with paintings and potted plants in Hanoi, March 23, 2010. Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
An artist's living room in Hanoi, March 23, 2010. Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
An elderly man sleeps while his son reads newspaper in their tiny room in Hanoi, March 23, 2010. Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
A father and his son arrange flowers together in Hanoi, March 17, 2009.Maika Elan
Inside Hanoi
An artist's warehouse at the end of an alley in Hanoi, March 17, 2009. Maika Elan
An image of my father resting on a cardboard in Lenin Park, overlaid by an image of an ferris wheel at the water park of Hanoi, August, 2013.Maika Elan
My friend, Ha Dang, a model and designer, July 11, 2012. Maika Elan
House of a gardener near the Red River of Hanoi, 2014.
A view of a gardner's house near the Red River of Hanoi, 2014.Maika Elan
Two young girls use motorbike on the street in Hanoi, 02.2014
Two young girls riding a motorbike on the street of Hanoi, February, 2014. Maika Elan

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