Born in 1971, Alexandre Garel is a French photographer based in Saigon, Việt Nam. When he first arrived in late 2011, Alexandre instantly fell in love with the city and began to photograph it, starting with the shanty towns along the river and their occupants. Then in 2012, he realized that the city’s architectural heritage was disappearing at an alarming rate, so he resolved to document Saigon’s built heritage in all its different aspects before it vanished forever. During the course of his work, Alexandre developed a particular interest in modernist architecture, a prevalent style in Southern Việt Nam, which led to a collaboration with architect Mel Schenck on the book Southern Vietnamese Modernist Architecture, published in June 2019.
Alexandre’s passion for architecture has also led him to create a second book on Saigon, this one covering all types of urban architecture. This book, entitled Saigon Portrait of a City, will be published in late 2020. And Alexandre’s adventure does not end there. At the time of writing, he is commencing work on a new photographic project in Hà Nội. Alexandre intends to continue this photographic documentation work in as many Asian cities as possible, capturing on film the region’s precious architectural heritage while there is still time.
Saigon Portrait of a City: A unique Vietnamese architectural testimony
“When I first arrived in Saigon in 2011, I fell in love with the city straight away. Over the next few years, I discovered the beauty of the city, with its small streets and alleyways known as hẻm, each one a labyrinth of life which has developed inside the old arteries originally traced by the French.
I also discovered to my surprise that old French houses were not protected, that they were constantly being destroyed to make way for large steel, concrete and glass towers. By the time I was working for The Word magazine in 2013, I understood the fragility of Saigon’s built heritage and realized that it was disappearing very quickly. It was at this point in time that my work in Saigon took on its real meaning, and photographing the city’s vanishing architecture became my priority.
Today I photograph people, life, the streets… What catches my eye at this time are the shantytowns along the canals and rivers, which I contrast with the new developing city. I never stop photographing the city and its inhabitants, trying every day to tame my surroundings and the ever-changing light, which these days owes a lot to pollution. Then there’s the rainy season, which hardly makes photography easy… but I love the warm light at the end of the day.
My work can be difficult in a bustling city where the traffic is intense, light is not constant, and many places are closed and inaccessible. People can also be suspicious when I approach, because they don’t understand my work… However, with a lot of persistence and patience I have been able to complete this project. Saigon is a very beautiful city which deserves a lot of attention, but if local people don’t take care of it they will lose it. I hope from the bottom of my heart that my work will help raise awareness and reveal the beauty of Saigon, a city whose unique built heritage is in imminent danger of disappearing forever.”
“Saigon – Portrait Of A City” by Alexandre Garel represents 9 years of work, research, and determination to photograph the best of the city of Saigon.
It is a book with unique photos of unique places that are often overlooked by the public, or even closed.
This book is a photographic book with a lot of historical anecdotes written by Tim Doling, who has published several works here in Saigon.
Description in English & in Vietnamese.