The Herring, Clouds
and The Blue Sky 

"Your name was my dream to name for my daughter."

- Kim Nguyên / Mẹ (Mom)

Until I was born, my mom worked in a Herring fish processing plant. They called me the herring baby. My mom then named me after a warm blue summer sky, with passing white clouds, Monica Vân Ha Phùng. Growing up I had a gold coloured, framed photo of this kind of sky on my bedroom wall. I looked at it every day and didn't think much of it. Realizing now, how much it actually meant. 

This documentary photo essay is an opportunity for me to reach far into my past, into bodies that came before mine. Experimenting with the masculine and feminine parts of my multiple identities. To feel what I will never know the textures or smells of. The land where my blood and bones were made. Where my grandparents were put to rest before I had the chance to hug them and tell them how much they would shape me. 

I carry these past histories and stories in my body. I have generations of trauma, life and love within me. 

This is one part of my story. 


Below: Me, Fundy National Park, 1992.

Summer 1980
[Việt Nam]

Top: Mẹ (Mom), Bãi biển Long Hải / Long Hải Beach
Bottom: Me, South Shore, Nova Scotia


Recreating this photograph surfaced many emotions for me. I felt a combination of strangeness, an out of body sensation and so much tenderness, being near and with the ocean in this way. 

"I am my mother in the ways that I am nurturing and how I observe the world around me."

"Mẹ là mẹ của con theo cách con đang nuôi dưỡng và cách con nhìn nhận thế giới xung quanh".

Winter 1980
[Việt Nam]

Left/Right: Me, South Shore, Nova Scotia
Middle: Cha (Dad), Galang Refugee Camp, Indonesia, 1986.


Spring 1987

Left: Me, Halifax Waterfront Ferry Terminal, 2020.
Right: Cha (Dad), Halifax Waterfront Ferry Terminal, 1987.


This photograph was taken in the exact location, 33 years apart. 

Summer 1987

Left: Cha (Dad), Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk, 1987.
Right: Me, Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk, 2020.


This photograph was taken in the exact location, 33 years apart. 

The trees have grown taller, spreading their branches across the view of the building.  

Fall 1987

Left: Cha (Dad), Purcell's Cove, Nova Scotia, 1987.
Right: Me, Purcell's Cove, Nova Scotia, 2020.


This photograph was taken in the exact location, 33 years apart. The two houses in the background are the same houses in both photographs. I was surprised to see them still standing because of how quickly development has been happening in that area. 

Fall 1987

Top Left/Bottom Left: Cha (Dad), Purcell's Cove, Nova Scotia, 1987.
Top Right/Bottom Right: Me, Purcell's Cove, Nova Scotia, 2020.


These photographs were taken in the exact locations, 33 years apart. 

Thank you to my parents, Kim Phùng (Dad) and Kim Nguyên (Mom), for making this piece of work come to life. For coming on the shoots, having hard conversation and sharing your stories with me, and the rest of you. I love you.

Cảm ơn ba mẹ của tôi, Kim Phùng (Bố) và Kim Nguyên (Mẹ), đã làm cho tác phẩm này trở nên sống động. Để đến với buổi chụp hình, hãy trò chuyện chăm chỉ và chia sẻ những câu chuyện của bạn với tôi và những người còn lại. Tôi mến bạn.

Thank you to my person and love, Mo Dresch, who has been there for me through all of the tears, in the moments where I wanted to give up, for using four different cameras on all the photoshoots and being in the process with me. You helped me believe that I could do this, when I didn't think I could. I love you. 

Now it's your turn.

You're invited to send your own messages across time, land and water. Across bodies and space.
To think about what it means to communicate through your body, radical imagination and vibrations on your skin.

How can you  

communicate with the generations that came before you?

What would you 

say to a person from your past, a family member, a friend, or your non-human selves?

Why are you 

curious to connect with this human or non-human piece from your past?

Note: This project is expanding at this very second. Some of your responses may be used, without names or attributions,  in the next iteration of this work. 

Using Format