Photography Professor Named 2011 Guggenheim Fellow
Apr. 08, 2011
Pipo Nguyen-duy thinks so highly of his photography students that it was only fitting for several of them to be present when he discovered some surprising news.
"All I saw was a note from Guggenheim," he said, referring to a message on his cell phone. Unable to open the full message, he went to his Allen Art Building office and asked a few students to help him open the document. "I was really just beside myself when I read the news. Right away, the students starting tweeting it. So much for keeping it confidential," he said.
The news is now official: The Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has named Nguyen-duy, associate professor of art and photography at Oberlin College, a 2011 fellow in creative arts. The foundation recognized him for his body of work titled East of Eden: Vietnam, a series of staged, large-scale, color photographs that explore hope and renewal 30 years after the Vietnam War.
Often called a midcareer award, the Guggenheim Foundation twice a year honors individuals who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. The foundation receives 3,000 to 4,000 applications each year of which about 220 receive a fellowship.
The Lotus Pond, from East of Eden: Vietnam.
The Uncle, from East of Eden: Vietnam.
Blind Man and Son, from East of Eden: Vietnam.
East of Eden: Vietnam is the third installment of his ongoing photographic project that examines the changing landscape of America, Vietnam, and the displacement of humanity since 9/11. The project began in 2005, with help from the college's Research and Development Committee and the Office of Sponsored Programs. It represents the culmination of two trips to Vietnam, when he traveled the country on a rented moped in search of war survivors to photograph against what he calls a regenerated Southeast Asia.
"It was important to see it [the landscape] in a whole new way, and explore the anxiety we all feel every day by living in a post-9/11 society, " he said. "Many of the subjects are in their 60s; two of the subjects I photographed have died. There was an urgency to the project in that it was important to get to these subjects before their stories could no longer be told."
In fact, timing and urgency is what Nguyen-duy believes made his body of work stand out.
The project also has personal significance for him. A native of Hue, Vietnam, he fled the country for America in 1975. His brother is an amputee. Many of the photographs show people who have lost limbs or are disfigured. Nguyen-duy says he sought to capture the strength, courage, beauty, and wholeness of the people. "I want to show that we do have the capacity to overcome the challenges brought on by war."
Nguyen-duy credits his family, his students, and the college for allowing him to take the necessary time away to research, travel, photograph, and assemble his work. "I'm just the guy who clicks the shutter. Without their support, this would not have been possible."
The one-year fellowship affords him a return trip to Vietnam, where he plans to add at least 100 more images to the series. A graduate of Carleton College and the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, Nguyen-duy has been on the Oberlin faculty since 1998.
Read more about Professor Nguyen-duy.