Sepia-drenched photographs of Vietnam’s colonial past

The work of French photographer Paul Gastaldy provides a rare sepia-drenched insight into the history of Vietnam, with his collection of photos, taken over the course of a decade between 1922 and 1932, depicting daily life for people in the colony

June 11, 2020
Sepia-drenched photographs of Vietnam’s colonial past

The past was just as colourful as our present, though we rarely imagine it that way.

To picture distant decades, our brains rely on a hodgepodge of available photographs and videos, and the further back one attempts to travel, the more beholden one becomes to the limitations of old technologies. Such is the case when trying to imagine life in 1931 Cochinchina.

We often picture the colonial era as grainy, soft and monochromatic thanks to photographs like those of Paul Gastaldy. The French photographer maintained a Saigon studio from 1922 to 1932 and actively traveled to capture the lives and people of the colony. While technically impressive, his portraits and landscape shots are limited by the film quality of the era, and further impacted by nearly a century of storage.

Looking at them, one gets a glimpse of the period, but is it an accurate one? Stripped of their colour, details, definition and context, is the world they depict not just a phlizz? Perhaps they should be considered impressionist outlines that one fills in by looking deeply at one’s modern surroundings?

Have a look below:

Photos via Flickr user Manhhai. This story was originally published on Saigoneer here.

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