Pipo Nguyen-duy writes:

“I began living in the United States in 1975 as a Vietnamese refugee. Consequently, cultural identity and cultural authenticity are some of the underlying themes of my visual explorations. Additionally, site-specificity has been an integral part of my studio practice, as I always consider geographical, historical, and cultural significance of the locations in my research.

“From 2015 to 2017, I made photographs from my hotel window in Ho Chi Minh City, District 1. The second-floor window offered a commanding view of the alley where it widened before the sharp left turn located under my hotel where it became narrow again. The alley served as a short cut between the congested street where it began and ended at a crowded market. What separated my camera from the alleyway was the large glass window to dampen the noise and the thin white curtain for privacy. I spent close to six months in this sixty-four square-foot hotel room, photographing obsessively from six in the morning until late at night, only taking breaks to eat or to sleep. During my process, I remained as objective as a scientist gathering visual data. The camera tripod allowed me to keep the same perspective of the scenes outside my window throughout the day.

“With this work, I aim to document, as if from the perspective of a natural scientist or archeologist. Using the camera to record facts rather than regarding it as a subjective tool, I have become increasingly intrigued with the idea of mapping my ‘own’ culture in hopes of understanding it from an outsider’s point of view using the hotel room as a metaphor for an in-between place. The window curtain was the variable that changed, in addition to the light, which also varied throughout the day. The curtain was a literal veil to the world and the culture outside my window. It serves as a metaphor for the lack of clarity and insight that I may have of my culture. From the alley I am hidden or visible depending on how wide the curtain was kept and the time of the day. The neatly arranged architecture seen from my window illustrated the rich history and the complex transition of the Vietnamese culture from French colonial, to American modernist, to contemporary high-rise.

“The project began as a survey to categorize different types of people, record gestures and behavior, map traffic patterns, and capture ‘decisive’ moments of street scenes below. Conceptually, I intended this mapping project only to reveal my difficulties of defining home—however as the project grew, the complexities of the images also have become more layered. The first image of the series revealing a man masturbating at 6:00 a.m. while leaning against his scooter below the hotel window addresses the voyeuristic nature of the project. In one set of pictures, which followed my neighbors’ gestures and habits from dawn until dusk, day after day, the project’s surveillance technique questions the tension between private and public spaces. In another image, a group of scantily-clad fashion models head toward an older woman in traditional clothing with a straw hat. This image aims to document the dynamic social changes and conflicts in contemporary Vietnam. In as much as it is a project about the nuances and complexity of contemporary Vietnam, ‘Hotel Window’ is also about the photographer’s struggles to find his place within the culture.”

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