Forty years ago, I was a United Press International staff photographer in the Saigon bureau, and I spent two years making some really scary pictures. Scary to make, scary to look at. I did my best to bring the war home, and I’m proud of the work I did.

I was a young photographer then, and the things I thought were important to photograph were the extraordinary, the outstanding, the different. Over the years I’ve changed. What I now think is most important to photograph, at least for me, is a careful documentation of our daily doings, our ordinary daily life. How we live, how we dress, the things we cherish.

I loved Vietnam, its people, its colors, its geography, its food and culture. And I’ve always wished I could have had, or taken, the time to photograph more of the beauty and elegance of that part of the world, more of their daily doings.

I finally had my chance. My old correspondent and best friend is Martin Stuart-Fox. Martin is now professor emeritus at the University of Queensland, Australia, and a leading expert on Southeast Asia. We were given a contract to do a book on the history of the three capitals of Laos—Champassak, Vientiane and Luang Prabang. That assignment finished, we went on to Vietnam, where I finally got to make some peaceful and quiet pictures. They were a long time in coming but worth the wait. It felt very good to be back again.

Steve Northup, a 1974 Nieman Fellow, is a freelance photojournalist. 


Musicians on Phung Island, in the Mekong Delta.


A scholar in a Confucian temple in Hanoi.


The giant rock islands, known as “the dragon descending,” were the scene of a important naval victory of the Vietnamese, who lured a much larger Chinese naval force into these waters and took them apart. Ha Long: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.


Pensioners gathered for reading and conversation in one of the courtyards of the Temple of Literature, Hanoi.


One of the most crowded spots in a crowded city is the path around Hoan Keim Lake, where scores of Hanoi’s residents arrive for their morning exercises.


A man unloads rice husks to feed giant pottery kilns in Can Tho, Vietnam. Photos by Steve Northup.

Most popular stories from Nieman Reports

Show comments / Leave a comment