John Dominis

A tribute to the late, great Life photographer

A Tribute from Vietnam

August 20, 2020

Dear Evelyn Floret,

 It is with great sadness that I just learned about John’s passing, please accept my sincere condolences.

I am writing to express my appreciation and gratefulness for the collection of lively photographs that John took in Huế, Việt Nam, more than 60 years ago. Words may not be sufficient to express my impressions about these extraordinary photographs, because emotional and personal experiences are not easy to put in language. For me, it was such a privilege and a treat to view this special collection, even though it does not seem to be as popular as many other magnificent works of John. 

Many photographs are absolutely breathtaking. They are about a city, Huế, once was an Imperial City in Việt Nam; a high heritage place which unceasingly echoes the sense of the past in the present. John’s skills of bringing long-ago persons, their emotions, and aspects of everyday life activities back to life in those images are amazing. A stunning representation of people and their vivid daily-life scenes have touched me profoundly and set my mind on a plan to visit Huế again. The collection flourished a significant dimension to my thoughts about the City, highly renowned for her beauty, endurance, tradition, and conservation.

 The ability to see through the souls, the feelings of people and capture their sentiments on photographs is probably John’s hallmarks. And he had integrated his perceptions about the subjects when skillfully depicted the scenes. An altruistic, compassionate storyteller who employed photography to tell stories about other people, their lives, difficulties, charms, and emotions; John had shared his experiences, feelings, appreciation about Huế’s people and places with the world in this collection.

I also saw the beauty of his images in the way he presented the bare reality of poverty through a series of images about a poor family’s living conditions, or the villagers’ concerted efforts to stabilize/improvise the damp to prevent floodwater from overflowing onto their meager fields. Many of these photos represent a realist documentary. They render insights beyond speech, words which could be valuable for students or researchers who are interested in Huế’s life and living conditions in the early 1960s.

I believe these photographs will endure, transcend time since many of them had captured real facets of human experiences; revealed the truth on how poverty affected the lives of people and brought them together in dire situation. A few others presented noticeable signs of deterioration and destruction to the ancient monuments and temples; likely caused by time, war, and neglect; John’s works might have addressed the universal concerns on the needs to preserve the Imperial City with many historical structures built since the early 17th century. His photographs told me a lot about Huế in the early 1960’s, they were not just fictional representation of reality. Most stories conveyed by the images are fairly consistent with facts I gathered from books on Huế’s history. Some images formed narratives which were, at times, actually more compelling than passages of words.


The impacts of John’s photographs had been very strong. Once looking at them, many lingered in my mind, transmitted messages, deepened my experiences, reconnected me with the country, where I was born but left still very young; and eventually urged me into writing a love-reflective piece about the City. This shows how influential good documentaries are on our lives. Their photographs captured the essence of humanity from the messy mix of the complicated world around us. They offer us the opportunity to walk back to experience the past, particularly if the photographer had a firm grounding in the history of his art; and for this, I believe John had.


I believe that photography is his way of loving, feeling, and touching his subjects; sharing their goodness with the world. His art is truly sublime! 


I am indebted to John for his magnificent works about Huế. Rest in Peace, John.




Vũ Thị Ngọc Thư