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Preserving the Past

Much of Old Saigon is disappearing, and fast. Alex Garel is documenting what is still left


Development has many pros, but it also has its cons. And in Saigon it means the destruction of the city that was once called the Paris of the Orient, the Pearl of the Far East.


For Paris-born photographer Alex Garel, the gradual disappearance of many of the city’s most historic buildings is painful. So painful that he’s decided to document them, and capture them through his lens before they are razed to the ground.




“[People only think about] money today,” he says. “They erase old houses just to build a new building. And the architecture is not good. They don’t think about the old architecture or mixing new with old. They just think short term and about making money.”


For the Record


He started his project in October 2013, shooting in HDR with a 17mm 1.4F tilt-shift lens. After Tet he will start working on a book together with historian Tim Doling, covering not only District 1, but the outlying areas of the city. 


For his “knowledge and understanding of history”, Doling will be working on the text, while Alex is working on the photos. In his attempts to get the perfect shot he’s often been hampered by the weather — and the pollution.


“During the rainy season, I could only schedule one or two hours a day for shooting, which was pretty short,” he explains. “Now [that] the good weather has come, it’s better. But it’s a bit foggy right now, so I cannot shoot. When it’s foggy I do inside shots, and when it’s not I do outside.”



He’s also had issues with getting access to buildings, most notably the structure that once stood at 213 Dong Khoi.


“I tried by every way possible to get inside,” he recalls. “But they didn’t allow me. They wouldn’t even communicate with me about this. I had to go in when they closed the doors.”


He adds: “I’m trying to get the maximum information, the maximum amount of photographs now, because I’m sure in one or two years, a lot of these places will disappear.”


To see more of Alex’s photos go to

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