The Photographer – John Ramsden


John is a diplomat with a life-long interest in photography and the visual arts.

He joined the Diplomatic Service in 1975 and worked in Senegal (West Africa) and at the East-West disarmament talks in Vienna. He was sent to Hanoi in 1980 as Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy and stayed in Vietnam until 1982.

At that time, there were very few westerners in Vietnam and almost no tourism. The country was isolated and very poor, after decades of war. The more open policies of the mid 1980s had not yet begun. Foreigners had few chances to get to know local people or understand the life of the country.

Given only a few months' notice of the move to Hanoi, John had little time to study the language and culture before setting off. At the time Vietnam was mainly studied abroad through the prism of conflict and the East-West divide. The photographs record John's growing fascination with what he found as he settled into the country.

Taking these photographs was a way for John to explore and get a feel for the way of life. He went for long walks around Hanoi, bicycled out to the surrounding villages and made car trips at the week-ends, always with a camera.

The films were developed on occasional trips to Bangkok - there was no dark room in the Embassy (which was tiny). John had a few prints made back in London to show friends but for many years they remained a private resource while he pursued his career in London, Berlin, Geneva and Zagreb.

John never went back to Vietnam but retains a strong affection for his time there and enjoys reading about Vietnam, especially through the work of its remarkable novelists. He has now left the Diplomatic Service. In 2010 he had a small exhibition of his photographs at the Museum of East Asian Arts in Bath, to coincide with the 1000 year anniversary of the foundation of Hanoi.

The photographs were the subject of a major exhibition in Hanoi in 2013. This was followed in 2016 by a book, "Hanoi Mot Thoi", published by Nha Nam in association with the French School of Asian Studies (EFEO) and with support from the British Council.

‘Hanoi After the War’, a completely revised and expanded version, adapted for an international readership, has now been published by Skira and will go on general release in 2018.