Thy Tran takes emotive pictures where two women can “simply be whoever they wish to be”
In conjunction with her personal projects, Thy continues to collaborate with girlfriend, Trang Doan, to produce intimate and dream-like photographs.
- Ayla Angelos
- 14 January 2022
Sometimes, observing the work of an industry great is all it takes to get inspiration flowing. When Thy Tran came across the pictures of photographer icon Nan Goldin for instance a spark was lit. Encouraging Thy to embark on her own photographic journey – one influenced by the intimate visuals found within Nan’s autobiographical portraiture – lensing predominantly those within the LGBTQIA+ community. “She changed my perception of what photography can be and how a soulless machine can mimic or even usurp the painting’s place in the public eye,” Thy tells It’s Nice That. “Goldin showed me that she is doing the looking and what her eyes see challenges universal ideals of gender intimacy.” Thy resultantly picked up a camera for the first time, and the rest is quite literally history as she began adding personal and cinematic pictures to her portfolio.
Photography, however, wasn’t always a career option for Thy. Growing up, the Saigon-born creative spent 15 years in the city “playing alone”, drawing, reading books or shoujo-mangas, and hoarding images to be kept as “treasures”. Initially she thought she’d become a painter and, in 2005, she moved to Melbourne for the next 12 years and eventually decided to apply for a degree in fine art. “I followed my parents wish and applied for a business degree but it didn’t go so well,” she admits, only for her application in painting to be rejected. “I thought the world was going to end because they put me into a photography class instead. I had never dreamt of being a photographer.”
As fate would have it, plunging into the visual medium was a risk worth taking. In 2015, Thy moved back to Saigon and began experimenting with a 35mm point and shoot, producing a mix of candid and staged imagery – the type that housed her memories and was used to explore her relationship with her partner. Thy and Trang Doan, her current girlfriend and cinematographer, met in 2018 and the pair have collaborated widely in making art together; she’s a great inspiration behind the different lighting techniques employed throughout Thy’s pictures, like the darker and moodier ambience that she’s become known for. “The work is increasingly staged with a more vivid palette, and there’s also an introduction of props which I would carefully consider: from the theatrical to the somewhat grotesque,” Thy explains. This transition from the more documentary style of photography has enabled Thy to explore the more ethereal, creating an arrangement of dream-like scenes where the subjects’ face is often hidden from view. “The camera helps me to create the ‘other self’, showing the viewers an imaginative space between two women where they can be themselves, or simply be whoever they wish to be.”
Ever since the pandemic arrived, Thy has purposefully slowed down her working hours, “I think I’m still in the process of recovering from six months of a super intense lockdown in Saigon,” she says. This means that her typical day commences with a “calm” breakfast, some plant TLC and a cycle around the city; planning future projects and re-aligning her approach to work after not being able to shoot over the lockdown. A recent project, though, is one that she completed in collaboration with her girlfriend. It’s a lyric video made for a friend where slowly warping visuals evolve to the soft and quaint vocals for the song Sundown Shores, released last year. “In this series, Trang painted on the negatives I took and I love how it was a complete myth; we didn’t know how it would turn out until we scanned the negatives.”
In other works, Thy has built a collection of surrealist narratives as she captures her subjects adorned in strange props and embellishments. From the more human-centric poses to the downright bizarre – take a pair of arms reaching out from a laptop as a prominent example – Thy’s image making is utterly transfixing in its hypnotic qualities. And, with an already impressive portfolio to boot, Thy hopes to continue her dreamy practice and continue collaborating with Trang in the future; “it’s an amalgamation of strange dreams,” she says of the work in mind. “I think, personally, if anyone looks at my work and it provokes or makes them feel something, then I will be glad.”
Copyright © Thy Tran, 2022
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.