Skall Letter No. 46

Maria Van Nguyen - Quiet spaces

Norwegian photographer and illustrator Maria Van Nguyen is the epitome of calmness and kindness. She speaks with a quiet yet powerful voice and takes her time to find the right words as we meet her in her apartment in central Oslo. It immediately strikes you that her way of behavior is a true reflection of her approach to life. Living in harmony with herself and her surroundings.

For the last couple of years Van has been on a journey, moving away from the often hectic fashion industry towards a quiet way of living:

“After working as a fashion designer in New York, I slowly started becoming more aware of my impact. Both in my personal life and in my work life I sought for change. As I learned more about sustainability and how our actions affect the environment, I felt a need and responsibility to find better ways of living in balance with my surroundings.”

“The fashion industry can be fast paced. There will always be something new and better. It is a never-ending circle of short-lived fulfilment - unless you tune out the noise and make deliberate choices in line with your personal needs. I wanted to step back from the fashion industry, and dedicate more time to things that felt more in line with my values.”

Van started to change her way of living:

“I got rid of things that I felt was unnecessary, also the things that I felt attached to but did not use. I decided to only purchase ten things for my wardrobe a year, including shoes. I find freedom in owning less - it originates space for imagination and creativity. I started with my wardrobe and soon went on to other areas such as food and beauty products. It was a natural navigation, a curiosity leading me to make a restrained selection on what I consumed in terms of products, but also what I watched, read, and listened to, thus leading to more time offline. With that came yoga and meditation. Meditation taught me to cultivate peace in the present moment and see things as whole just as they are.”

In her work as photographer as well as on her Instagram profile Van is documenting quiet spaces, always with an aesthetic approach. What is beauty in her opinion?

“The most beautiful things are raw and untouched. Beauty is not something you can achieve, but something that can be found right here: in every moment, in every living being. Our honest self is perfect, oftentimes clouded by society’s ideal image of what it is supposed to be.”

It is easy to see that Van feels closely connected to nature, and to trees and water, in particular. Why trees and water?

“Water can go from immense strength to complete stillness. Water is ever changing and awakening. It is teaching you to accept changes in life, instead of trying to control the outcome. Flowers are obviously beautiful, delicate with a short life-span, thus we have to take care of them. For some reason I gravitate more towards trees. With them, it’s the opposite.”

“I have a sense that trees are here to take care of us. They are solid, strong, and generous. They tell stories of hope. Whenever a tree grows through a human built structure I smile. They always find a way. I see lessons in water, trees, mountains, clouds - in all of nature. In the natural world everything has a value and a purpose. There is harmony to how all interconnects and depends on one another. If only we can find back to our place and learn from earth’s reciprocity and wonderful rhythm.”

Van is documenting quiet spaces − in her opinion, why is silence a special quality these days?

“When I photograph, I seek out softness, the unnoticed and mundane, the quiet moments that pass us by. Silence can be mistaken as weakness, when in fact it holds a delightful energy. When we pause, we breathe deep, and we are brought home to ourselves. There is no need to be more, do more, or prove that you are worthy. It takes courage to be still, to be honest with yourself, but that is when true clarity arises.”

It is all in the detail, seems to be your mantra. Can you say something about the beauty of details?

“When you focus on one thing, you bring light to its full potential. I prefer to dedicate all my attention on one
object, one moment or one person. Life is complex - or do we complicate things ourselves? Maybe life can be easier if we slow down and take time to nurture one thing at a time.”

Please note that the images are subject to copyrights and are solely for internal use. Accordingly, the images may not in any way be distributed.

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