Fikri’s Team Pick
Over two years, Maika Elan (otherwise known as Nguyen Thanh Hai) photographed everyday moments of LGBT couples in Vietnam. The documentary project, named after gay travel website Pink Choice, started with Elan knocking at the door of a gay hotel asking for permission to capture its “atmosphere.” To her surprise, couples invited her into their own spaces, sometimes taking their participation as an opportunity to come out or introducing her to other LGBT people for her to continue her work.
“Most took some time to warm up to her. But after being around her subjects for a few days, she got a sense of their routines at home. In fact, the idea of home became integral to the work. When she followed one couple outside, she watched how their posture changed in public. They weren’t comfortable. At a flower market, where she was photographing the two men together, onlookers stopped to ask why two men would hug.
She sought private moments instead – where her subjects would be free from stares and criticism, and less inclined to dramatize their relationship. Moments when they forgot she was there.”
– Real Faces, Real People, Real Love in Vietnam, The New York Times
Elan’s photographs range from the intimate to the humorous, and are often both and everything in between all at the same time. In her own words, she avoided what was “too beautiful,” aiming for “moments that people could encounter in their own lives.”
The Pink Choice won 1st prize for Stories (Contemporary Issues) at the World Press Photo 2013. Elan is the first Vietnamese woman and only the second Vietnamese photographer to have been recognised at the international competition, following Associated Press photographer Nick Ut’s famous image of children running away from napalm fire in the Vietnam War winning Photo of the Year in 1972.
While a 2012 survey revealed significant public opposition to same-sex marriage, the Vietnamese government repealed a ban against same-sex marriage just last month and plans to debate the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships are expected to follow. 2012 also saw the country’s first gay pride parade in Hanoi, its capital city.