Photographer and multidisciplinary artist Dương Gia Hiếu has an undeniable talent with a keen eye for quotidian beauty. Based out of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and originally from Gia Lai in Vietnam, Hiếu started his foray into art through graphic design, studying the medium at university. “Studying graphic design throughout college is where I was introduced to the fundamentals: colours, shape and structure and how people communicate with it,” he tells It’s Nice That. After perfecting his aesthetically-charged practice, Hiếu found himself drawn to photography. “That’s when I started taking photos, documenting case studies for a design studio,” he says. “It was a serious shift for my photography career”. But it wasn’t just photography which Hiếu found himself enamoured by. From learning about interactions with shape and colour, Hiếu began venturing into product design. “My product design practices are non-stop processes of sketching and prototyping,” Hiếu says on the differences between his photography and product design craft. “Taking unwanted thrown away materials from the street to create functional objects and furniture is my response to consumerism and bad designs that I couldn't express through photography right now,” he adds.
What ties Hiếu’s work together is its deceptively simple appearance. Deceptive, because on closer inspection of his photos and products you can begin to see the artist’s level of attention, care, and detail. They’re at times jovial, gorgeous, or innovative – or all three. But, as talented as he is, he remains humble and resists a signature style. “Although style was actually my concern when I first started, now it doesn't bother me that much,” he says. “The consistency of my photographic style is in my process and the subject I choose to work with”. It’s true, as Hiếu’s work spans a range of visual languages whilst still remaining cohesive. To explain this, he conjures up a metaphor. “If you look carefully into a leaf: we see a leaf in the dry season can never be the same as one in the rainy season, no matter where it is,” he says. “For me, It's more about vision when I think of a person”.
As one of the many talented artists in Vietnam, it’s refreshing to see work deviate from the standard Western gaze oft-found in photography and product design. Take, for example, one of Hiếu’s popular photographic projects he works on to this day. Titled Dress like Việt, the series serves to show Vietnamese street style. “At the beginning, it was just a personal preference to see how people dress in harmony with the landscape of Vietnam in general, and of Saigon in particular, since Saigon has always been my muse,” Hiếu explains. “I can immediately imagine the messy, unique landscape where modern and nostalgic places are separate but interlaced as well as the way people dress”. The project serves as love and admiration for the everyday style of people around him. It’s something Hiếu attributes to his past. “Perhaps what fuels my huge interest in the complexity of everyday clothes comes from being born and nurtured in a working family next to a small wet market that was always busy and full of people”. The series is not so much an observation or act of looking, more so than it is about being immersed within these clothing styles. “It’s definitely not just a one time curious look-in,” he clarifies. “What people call fashion should be set by citizens of the city itself, and to see the garment and the way people wear it could also reflect the environment and the lifestyle there”.
“Ultimately, I'm strongly influenced by daily life and ordinary stuff from where I am rooted, but it's a continuous cycle of observing, making, thinking repeatedly,” Hiếu says. “There is not a certain linear structure process for me with photography or product design”. In turn, Hiếu’s genuine appreciation and love for his environmental surroundings are endless sources of artistic inspiration and cement him as an artist to keep an eye on. As he sets his sights on publishing his first book Dress like Việt (a compilation of the aforementioned series) this year, we know Hiếu has plenty more works to put him on the map.
Duong Gia Hieu: Dress like Việt (Copyright © Duong Gia Hieu, 2020)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.