This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.
Belgian photographer Wouter Vanhees has been documenting Vietnam’s capital Hanoi since November 2018, through a series of nocturnal cityscapes.
He initially set out to capture the rapid changes in the city — the juxtaposition between old and new, the bright neon lights and the dark night sky — but it was the stillness in construction projects and residential areas that caught his attention.
“I basically fell in love with the stillness these areas bathe in at night. The atmosphere in these parts of the city is far removed from the usual chaotic hustle and bustle during daytime,” Vanhees told VICE.
Eventually, “emptiness” became the theme of his work, as seen in the photo series Hanoi Reflection. Photos of empty streets, alleys, and plots of land bear a meaningful use of negative space, while bright lights offer a glimpse of the bustling city center.
Then in January, the coronavirus hit Vietnam. Vietnam was one of the first countries to report a coronavirus case outside China and authorities immediately took action by putting social distancing measures in place.
With empty streets now the norm, Vanhees once again roamed the city’s streets. The result was Hanoi Isolation, an extension of his earlier work, but with a darker, more eerie ambiance.
“In a way, these latest images are my most personal ones,” the photographer said. “It’s really an exploration of the place where my family has lived for the past five years.”
“This is our home. While we know we will eventually move to another city and country, Hanoi will always hold a special place in our hearts.”