Photographer Simone Sapienza shoots the contradictions of contemporary Vietnam – a country in transition, spearheaded by a young, energetic population.

Photographer Simone Sapienza shoots the contradictions of contemporary Vietnam – a country in transition, spearheaded by a young, energetic population.

Growing up, the only images that photographer Simone Sapienza ever saw of Vietnam were in Hollywood movies.

Be it Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter or Platoon, it was impossible to escape stories rooted in conflict – told from the perspective of Americans soldiers.

So years later, upon his graduation in documentary photography from the University of South Wales, he decided to embark upon a project that addressed what he felt was an imbalanced view of the country.


For Sapienza – who’s based between Palermo and Siracusa, Sicily – it was a case of capturing a Vietnam that existed outside of the history of its conflict, all while going beyond the idyllic, stock image scenes that decorated magazines and social media platforms.

“I’m a documentary photographer and I was sick of the perfect photographs [of Vietnam] that you can find on Instagram, postcards, in travel agencies, and magazines,” he explains.

“I was more interested in interpretation of reality, starting from deep documentation and ending up with metaphors and symbols. I felt this visual strategy was more engaging – to symbolise rather than describe.” 


The subsequent project, titled Charlie surfs on Lotus Flowers, sees Sapienza abandoning conventional photojournalistic approach, instead opting for a “sequence of metaphorical responses” to the factors that characterise modern Vietnamese society.

His images – taken during three separate trips over a two-and-a-half-year period – depict a post-war country navigating a series of in-between stages: the transition from communism to free-market capitalism, a young and energetic population moving in a different direction to older generations, the illusion of freedom and the reality of government power. It’s a portrait of the country now – and an idea of what’s to come. 

“The show must go on. I hope all the best for Vietnam,” he adds. “They deserve it after so many cruel decades at the hands of foreign interests. I wish them real freedom, democracy and equality.”

Charlie surfs on Lotus Flowers is available now from Akina Books.

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