Tim Barnsley is no stranger to these parts. He’s been capturing the characters of this region from behind his camera lens for many years. Tim and his family have just returned from an eighteen month stay in Vietnam, where they enjoyed firsthand the sounds, scents and sights of this amazing country.
How long have you lived in the New England?
I have lived in the New England for 25 years. I came to Armidale to go to teachers’ college in 1983 and then went on to study photography and art at TAFE.
Tell us about your family …
I am married to Cindy Barnsley and have two children, Eva and Max.
Why did you go to Vietnam?
I went to Vietnam partly because of my love of photojournalism. A big influence when I was growing up was the Vietnam War. As a kid, I was fascinated by TIME and LIFE magazines, which were full of images and stories from that conflict by photojournalists such as Larry Burrows, Tim Page, Nick Ut, Phillip Jones Griffiths and others. Thirty years later, I was interested to see how the country, the landscape and the culture had changed from that time.
My wife and I went to Laos in 1999 for our honeymoon, and we really wanted to travel to Vietnam and Cambodia. We first visited Vietnam in 2002 and fell in love with the amazing Vietnamese people, and we wanted to return for an extended period to experience their lifestyle in a way that you can’t do on a holiday.
Cindy explored teaching opportunities in Vietnam and was offered a position at The Australian International School in Saigon. We spent 18 months living in Ho Chi Minh City, where I worked as a freelance photographer.
Did you take your own photography equipment with you?
Yes, I did. I took a Nikon D2H and purchased another professional camera body in Vietnam. I got my Vietnamese motorbike licence, which gave me the freedom to ride around with a camera backpack and see all aspects of Vietnamese society. Saigon, being a city of 8 million people, was a huge contrast to rural life in Armidale, and everywhere I went there were amazing sights, sounds and smells that inspire you to produce beautiful images.
I entered the Canon Photo Marathon in Ho Chi Minh City and was one of three westerners out of 1,300 photographers who took part in racing around Saigon to produce set images around certain themes.
Tim Page was to be a judge, but had been injured in the Hanoi leg of the competition – so I didn’t get the chance to meet him. However, I met many local photojournalists and press photographers, which was a great experience.
What were the highlights of your stay?
Every day was a highlight, because I never stopped being amazed by how friendly and resilient the Vietnamese people are. I became friends with some locals and was able to experience Vietnamese life firsthand.
I met disabled people who made their living begging, banana sellers whose shop was a street corner, war veterans who sat in beer halls all day, along with westerners from around the world who worked in orphanages, HIV prevention and education.
Another highlight was joining the sea of motorbikes every day, which carries the whole country to and from work. You could see people riding along with pigs, ducks, fridges, panes of glass and anything else that would normally be delivered by a truck in Australia.
I was lucky enough to become friends with a girl I met through the Canon Photo Marathon, who was a university student living in Ho Chi Minh City. I was able to go to her hometown, Cu Chi, several times, which was a Viet Cong stronghold during the war. Many people visit there to see the Viet Cong tunnels, which stretch for hundreds of kilometres.
I was the first foreigner to meet her family and visit their farm, and it was great to see their rubber tree plantation and meet her grandmother, who had lived through the war and lost a son. We had an interesting lunch of chicken intestines and cooked blood, but I was able to wash it down with a rice wine and local beer.
Even though Saigon is a modern developing city with construction everywhere, it is still scattered with memorials at the famous places that had initially drawn me there, through the famous images I’d seen.
The American Consulate built on the former site of the American Embassy, where the famous footage of the Tet Offensive had been screened around the world, the bridge where a young communist tried to blow up the US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, the corner where the monk, Duc, famously burned himself in protest against the South Vietnamese government’s persecution of Buddhists are just some.
There is the more well-known War Remnants Museum, that has a moving exhibition – Requiem – of work by photojournalists who were killed during the war, compiled by photographers Tim Page and Horst Faas. The Reunification Palace in the centre of Saigon is a time capsule and is kept as it was when the Communists took over the city in April 1975.
Vietnam is also an amazing place for those not interested in the history, with the current generation of Vietnamese having little interest in the ‘American War’. They are very optimistic, and it’s incredible that 60% of the population is under 30 years of age. Saigon is increasingly renowned for its restaurants and being an international city, there is plenty on offer apart from the local cuisine. You can eat all around the globe, with French, Indian, Chinese, German and Middle Eastern food on offer, which added variety to my favourite – which was, of course, Vietnamese.
Did your children go to school there, and how did they benefit from the trip?
The children had a wonderful time, and my wife and I are thrilled that they had the chance to attend an international school with children from all over the world. There are more than 60 nationalities at the school, so they were able to meet people from Vietnam, Korea, France and Canada, to name a few. They also enjoyed travelling in Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.
Is your wife back teaching at TAS?
Yes, Cindy is back teaching English and History at TAS and is absolutely loving it.
I am currently freelancing, and I am also planning to have an exhibition of images from Vietnam.
People can view my photographs on my website: http://timbarnsley.zenfolio.com/ or contact me on my mobile number: 0408 674 093.
Thank you Tim.