Photos of Vientiane, Laos, from half a century apart

CNN  — 

A torn black and white picture of a beautiful Buddhist stupa is itself photographed next to the actual building, in all its golden finery. Two images of the same structure taken half a century apart. It’s a simple concept, but a powerful representation of a lost past and a transient present.

It’s one of a series of images captured by Laotian filmmaker and photographer Thanavorakit Kounthawatphinyo, known as Nin. He decided to document his country’s capital, Vientiane, and the changes it has undergone, in a number of photographs that show monuments from today’s city alongside images of the same landmarks taken 50 to 60 years ago.

The photos show a city that is clearly recognizable from the mid-20th century, but hint at the way that Vientiane has changed since then.

CNN caught up with him to learn more about the images.

CNN: How did the photos come about?

Nin: I’ve been collecting old photos of various locations in Laos for four to five years now and the collection keeps getting bigger and bigger.

One day I found an online photo album in which the photographer compared photos from the past and the present in the same picture. I though that’s a really interesting way to show the differences that time has created for each particular location.

Then I started to build my own set shortly after, in early September 2014. I began with a simple set of photos based on famous locations in Vientiane such as The Monument Park and the That Luang Stupa.

I also wanted to keep the post editing as minimal as possible so I figured out that I should just print out the past photos onto real paper and tear them to demonstrate the differences. So the past photos, including my hand, are actually real – with barely minimum editing in the post.

I’ve also tried to build a Luang Prabang (Kounthawatphinyo’s home town) album but not yet been successful. I found there are some technical challenges making this a good past-versus-present album.

The entrance of the Royal Palace, Luang Prabang, during the funeral of Laotian King Sisavong Vong in 1959. "Nowadays we don't have kings anymore, just a lot of tourists," says Kounthawatphinyo.

CNN: How would you describe Vientiane? Has it changed much in recent years?

Nin: In short, Vientiane is a fast-growing city where you can easily see a lot of investments from foreigners that keeps pushing the city forward with tall buildings, franchise restaurants, etc.

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CNN: How does it compare to Luang Prabang?

Nin: In Luang Prabang, as a World Heritage Site, the government always tries to freeze changes to the city’s core. You can barely see any difference in the structure levels of most buildings, especially in the downtown area.

These photos of Luang Prabang show the simplicity of this small city where you can still see a lot of colonial buildings. Most of them were built more than 50 years ago.

CNN: What projects are you working on now?

Nin: I’m currently working as a linguist for Vistatec, one of the world leading localization companies, and I’m also working for Moravia and Webdunia as a language expert.

In my free time, I usually think about the script that I’ve been working on for the past few years and still aiming to finalize it in some way. It’s a short film about a guy who accidentally found a way to travel back into the past and tried to fix his childhood time. I made a similar short many years ago which won the Vientianale Film Competition.

I feel that time traveling is something interesting to experiment with – maybe it’s just because I would want to travel back in time, too!

I’m also planing to build a complete set of the Past versus Present album next year.

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