3 out of 4 stars
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Other Streets by Mark F. Erickson is a 192-page book of photography of Vietnam in the 1990s. As the author describes it, “the world in these images no longer exists” as the book shows a period of time in which the country had rebuilt after three major conflicts between 1950 and 1980 but before it had undergone true industrialization. Most of the photographs depict people engaging in everyday activities, but they don’t feel everyday, perhaps because of the physical, temporal, and metaphorical distance between a modern American reader and the recovering Vietnamese of the 1990s.
I loved the simplicity of the actual photographs of the book. The author clearly focuses on people rather than places, and he allows their natural actions and setting to define the photographs. I was confronted by normal aspects of Vietnamese life like the young age of the working class and the juxtaposition between temples from the 4th to 18th centuries and hotels from the 1950s. The pictures depict Vietnamese life through the eyes of both an outsider and an insider: a man who was born in Vietnam but adopted and raised in the US.
Although I truly enjoyed the pictures, I often found myself wanting to know more about the photographer’s subjects. He includes a caption for each picture, but they are often simple phrases like “Pharmacy - Hanoi.”, which doesn’t give the reader any real information about the lives of the people depicted. There were notes at the end of the book, which I would have preferred to be integrated throughout so that the reader could have the information while viewing the photograph. Each caption had its own page, which led to a nearly-blank page being interposed between each photograph. This would have been a perfect area to include simple information about the photo, like whether or not the photographer asked for permission from the subject, how they responded, and if they liked having their picture taken. A picture is worth a thousand words, but I would have like a couple hundred more for each of these.
Overall, I would rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about Vietnam just from viewing these photographs, but I was left wanting more. I think the book could be seriously improved with some commentary from the photographer about the experience of taking each photo and the life and personality of each subject.
I would recommend this book for any reader who is interested in life in Vietnam in the 1990s. The photos are generally appropriate for all ages, although there is one that depicts a cockfight in the street. Though not gratuitously violent, this may upset young children. This book would be a great find for people who enjoy learning about a country through the eyes of someone on the ground, observing the everyday lives of locals.
Other Streets: Photography by Mark F. Erickson
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