[Photos] A collection of illusory Saigon nightscapes from 1938
While there remain no shortage of archive photos documenting Vietnam, this collection of images from 1938 provides a rare and striking glimpse into colonial Saigon after sunset
Written by Saigoneer
While there is no shortage of photos that depict the lives and experiences of people from all walks of life in Vietnam during the last 100 years, very few present the country’s nocturnal happenings.
Simply, the technology of the past made it a much more difficult process compared to the digital and flash-abundant means today. One would need to set up a tripod and let the camera take a long-exposure shot to capture a city with few streetlights: a much more involved undertaking than a simple point and click. That is the reason why collections like this one by French photographer Eli Lotar are so striking.
Electricity, and thus streetlights, first arrived in Saigon in the 1880s, and by 1938 they illuminated the wealthier sections of the city. In these photos, an upscale clothing shop is bathed in the warm glow, beer advertisements beam above bars, and the marquee in front of a theatre sparkles above the street.
While most of the people that can be seen are from the suit-wearing, custard-eating upper crust of society, a few commoners can be seen strolling the clean avenues or huddled around a newspaper stand.
The photos may not reveal what happened in Saigon’s shadows, but they give a unique perspective on the city’s refulgent regions once the Earth has turned its back to the sun.