While Saigon’s landscape changes with each passing day, its architecture, identity, and streets are invariably tied to the past. What, then, has remained over time? ‘War Time Sai Gon Through the Lens’, a new documentary from filmmaker Louis Corallo, examines photos taken by American photographer Michael Burr from 1969 to 1970, during which time he was deployed on a tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force. Upon his initial departure, Burr brought with him a Pentax H3V camera and, when he had time off, documented a great deal of his first year in Viet Nam—in sum, more than 1,500 photos. From scenes of daily life in Saigon to close looks at the city’s French colonial architecture, Burr’s photos bring life to a time and place in ways words cannot.
Corallo recounts how, upon seeing Burr’s photographs for the first time, he was struck not only by the differences in the city’s material makeup but the ways in which its relationship to the outside world has changed. One photo in particular, depicting a group of women waiting for a bus and averting their gazes from the camera, immediately drew him in.
“What has been so fascinating is to observe Burr’s work in relation to the modern experience of living in Saigon. Whereas today everyone is armed with a smartphone and ready for a photo-op, seeing a picture like this truly makes one step back and consider change”, he notes. And as Corallo continued to explore the work and share it with others, it became clear that Burr’s photographs elicited a different reaction from each viewer. Throughout the film’s production, Corallo and Burr found themselves unearthing new context to decades-old photos. One such instance even involves the very place the original film came to life. Burr lived in District 5’s Cho Lon for the better part of a year, setting up a makeshift darkroom in the bathroom of the apartment he shared. For the documentary, he and Corallo visited the same space—now occupied by 3 generations of a family—to see what remained.
War Time Sai Gon Through the Lens premieres on November 8th at Salon Saigon. The night will begin with a screening of the film, followed by a talk by Burr, offering commentary and additional information on a selection of photos.
“I can really think of no better venue for the film”, says Burr. “It’s a beautiful space dedicated to preserving and highlighting Vietnamese art and identity, which is, after all, something I hope these photos and this film can also serve to do”.
For tickets and more information, visit the film opening’s Facebook page Here .
November 8th. From 7.30 pm
Salon Saigon : 6d Ngô Thời Nhiệm, Ward 7, District 3
Ho Chi Minh City