Still. Life.

Jamie Maxtone-Graham


These images were produced in a long-unused state-run pharmaceutical factory in Hanoi, Vietnam. For a brief time beginning in early 2013, the large complex of French colonial and Russian brutalist architecture buildings was opened to tenants seeking alternative space and cheap rent. Within weeks, a majority of the vacant site was rented by individuals and transformed rapidly into a retail, arts, café, bar and restaurant area unofficially named Zone 9.

I rented a studio room with a large, north-facing window and began producing several portfolios of long-exposure, interior daylight portraits, requiring the sitters to remain motionless for 15 to 20 seconds for each frame. Later that autumn, due to a complex series of events, city politics and the sudden unsanctioned popularity of Zone 9, the city government began asserting its authority on the situation. By early December of that year, the city decreed that everyone living and working in Zone 9 should vacate the complex by the end of the year, mere weeks away. To encourage a more rapid departure, shortly the city shut off the electricity and eventually the water as well.

It was in those final weeks, as people took apart their newly renovated spaces and moved out, that I photographed these objects and furniture, much of it left behind. I created these simple combinations of large and small objects each requiring the support of the other to maintain the balance of the whole. I worked alone and I worked quickly and quietly using just the available exterior daylight as, outside my locked studio door, the city enforced its mandate. I had few visitors in those last days.

In the end, I left too. The buildings are still standing there, empty, people banned from entering. Only the light can still get in.


Jamie Maxtone-Graham has a background as a commercial cinematographer in New York and Los Angeles and has lived full time in Hanoi since 2007. Since then, among other things, he has focused on his own long-term photography projects, producing films and film installations, and running intensive photography workshops at Hanoi DocLab.