Photographer Kmon Nguyen On His Minimal, Spontaneous Street-Style Work

“It was kinda spontaneous,” Kmon Nguyen shrugs about his entry into photography. But eight years on he’s developed this cool minimal style where he plays around with shapes and patterns in a very intelligent way. “I think it was 2017 when I really developed this aesthetic, and I’ve been keeping my eyes open to make simple photography into art.

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

He mostly shoots the chaos of Saigon, its streets and buildings. But somehow he imbues them with a sense of peace. “I was born here. I love it. So I want my photos to present it in the same special light with which I see it.” But he also has an eye for the moment, catching the perfect positioning of objects and people — a woman in a red dress stepping out onto the balcony of a multi-story building with green windows, a shadow on a sunbed that looks like it’s wearing sunglasses, the Landmark81 building framed by lamp poles. 

These shots may look simple to make, but there’s a ton of patience required to capture that split second when things align perfectly. “Lots of time, effort, and patience…” Kmon shakes his head. He especially likes heading into Saigon’s streets in the morning. Saigon has this special energy early that’s “positive and vibrant.” In the afternoon, he feels the energy dips a bit. And so do the chances of a great photo.

Kmon Nguyen shooting Landmark81 from below.

Because of his attention to detail and compulsion to capture the perfect moment, no matter how long it takes, he’s received lots of praise and even international attention for his work. Despite that he’s very humble and always moving on in search of the next perfect moment. He’s also happy to reveal his secrets.   

And so, according to him, a successful street style photo should possess one of a number of key elements to make it truly reflect Saigon life: fences and grills, the tropical rain, shadows cast by this strong southern sunlight.  

Patience helps Kmon capture his minimal-street style photos.

How would you describe your shooting style? And how has your style evolved?

As we discussed, it’s a kind of minimalistic street style. It suits my personality. And it’s a lesser explored way of shooting here in Vietnam. People tend towards more expressive styles here. My street style is fun, sometimes surreal, and a little ironic. 

How do you feel your work portrays Vietnam?

I definitely want to portray Vietnam in an original way. Life’s so intense. Information overload. So I want my photos to represent a slower pace of life to combat the intensity. I want people to reflect on these magnificent moments that were often in too much of a hurry to see. 

Taking street-style photos also helps me to connect with younger viewers. I want to inspire them to take a sideways look at the world too. 

“The most memorable photos to me are ones that are imperfect.”

Why did you first get into photography? And what inspires you to keep pursuing this passion?

I’m a Catholic and my faith encourages me to spread love and positivity. These are God’s moments I’m capturing, and it’s God who gave me this path and direction in life. 

The photos capture everyday life. Do you have any memorable stories behind your photos?

Wow. There’s so many. The most memorable photos to me are ones that are imperfect. But every image I make, when I look back on it, makes me smile. They take me in an instant back to that moment. 

As for a specific photo, it’s probably the one that won me the Canon Marathon in 2018. The theme was ‘reflection’. I took 500 shots. And I selected just one as my entry. I quietly felt I could win but openly when people asked I said I had no chance. And I won first prize.

How has your style changed since you first started?

I definitely observe better now. And my use of color has improved and my ability to predict the moment. I think it’s made me a different person too. I’ve an affinity for the slow life now. 

What three tips would you share with a beginner photographer?

Tip number one, be polite when taking photos. Not everyone wants to be shot so be considerate. Tip two, practice. Try to take fifty or so photos a day. And finally, tip number 3, cameras are important, but more important is a good eye and a generous heart. 

Saigon has lots of locations that attract photographers. Especially people shooting to post on Instagram. Which are your secret locations that they wouldn’t know?

I think lots of markets reflect Vietnamese culture really well. But I really like the craft villages outside the city. There’s a hat-making village in District 12 for example. And there’s lots more…

Chance, patience, and a keen eye help Kmon capture his unique images.

Which one photo best represents your portfolio and style?

I’m choosing this one because I had to wait almost an hour to capture it. I waited and waited for the yellow bike to come into frame. Amazingly, there were three people on the motorbike too, very Vietnamese! It reflects my two core styles, minimalism and street photography really well. 

It was highlighted by NatGeo in their ‘Your Shot’ section. And it’s appeared in lots of international photo forums too. 

“I’m choosing this one because I had to wait almost an hour to capture it.”

Can you choose three more photos you’ve taken that you love and describe them for us?

This was one of my earliest photos. It’s a shot of a guy running down the stairs. Coincidentally, at that moment, a neighbor opened the door. And so I called the photo: “When Peter Opens Heaven’s Gate”. It has this strange kind of light that I love…even though I think that may be because my lens was dirty. It’s also like an angel descending to earth. That’s why I really love it. 

The backlight made the boy in this photo look, “like an angel descending to earth”.

Here I captured a plane in the background. In the foreground are lots of hanging cables. Those tangled cables are another iconic, but chaotic, symbol of life here.

This photo captures the wonderfully chaotic Saigon energy.

That’s why I’m choosing it. It was easier to capture than it looks. Planes pass along this route every ten minutes, so I didn’t have to wait long on Binh Trieu Bridge where it was taken. 

Another image about dislocation, “that feeling of being out of place in the world.”

This photo is about dislocation, that feeling of being out of place in the world. The person I shot seems lost, and the image coveys that kind of loneliness. I captured the image lit from the back to show the contrast. I was rushing to work one day, but I still found the time to wait for 30 minutes to be able to capture this moment…

Photos by Nghia Ngo The Dot Magazine


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