April, 20 2012 10:23:44

Ethnic people create self-portrait

Us: Photos taken by ethnic people are displayed in an outdoor exhibition.

HA NOI — A photo exhibition in Ha Noi entitled My Culture – Conversations in Open Spaces shows the fruit of a project that allowed ethnic people in Viet Nam to use digital storytelling methods to present themselves and help others see the world through their eyes.

Vividly depicting the daily lives and cultural activities of ethnic peoples, the exhibition is the result of the PhotoVoice project that was conducted by the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) with financial support from CARE and Oxfarm.

"We thought it might be a good idea to let them speak for themselves, in their own words and from their own perspectives," said project manager Luong Minh Ngoc.

The project was launched in the northern mountain provinces of Lao Cai and Yen Bai, in the central provinces of Thanh Hoa and Quang Tri and in the southern province of Soc Trang. People from nine different ethnic groups, including the Mong Si, Black Mong, Black Dao, Red Dao, Muong, Thai, Pa Co, Van Kieu and Khmer, joined enthusiastically in the programme.

"By joining the PhotoVoice project, many ‘photographers' could discover more about the unique culture of their own ethnic groups. Once they took pride in it, they could preserve it," said iSEE Director Le Quang Binh.

Many of the photographers affirmed that they learned more about their cultures and customs after joining the programme.

"I used to wear our traditional costume without awareness about the meaning of every embroidered pattern on it," said Phan Lo May, a young Red Dao woman in the tourist town of Sa Pa. "By taking photos focusing on the local brocade embroidery, I now know the meanings of all the patterns."

May also shared the difficulties that she faced in the shooting process.

"I had to persuade people appearing in the photos about the programme's meaning as they figured the photos had a profit motive," she said.

Ly Thi Hong Kieu, a Khmer woman in Soc Trang Province, had another difficulty. She had to look after her grandchild at the same time as taking photos.


Perusal of life: Visitors enjoy the photos and accompanying stories. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
"I was very embarrassed during the first days when others look at me curiously, thinking ‘what is this old woman doing?'. Sometimes I had to carry my grandchild on one hand while using the other to take photos."

Ngoc herself spent hours convincing men in Nam Bung Commune, in Yen Bai Province's Van Chan District, to let their wives and daughters join in the programme. In their opinions, the women shouldn't do anything other than take care of the household and farm work.

"I really feel regret that I haven't planned to visit ethnic village before coming to Viet Nam," said Chris Taes, a Belgian tourist who viewed the exhibition. "I can see the rich culture of Vietnamese ethnic groups, and I've found the exhibition is very interesting, not for the beautiful photos but for its meaning."

The exhibition continues at Ly Thai To Park on Dinh Tien Hoang Street through Sunday. A photobook showcasing images captured during the project is expected to be published in the coming months. — VNS

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