by Le Ha
When I walk through Ha Noi's streets on autumn weekends, I have the impression that half of the city's population are on the streets with me, taking photographs with their digital cameras. The other half are snapping away with their phones. Photography is everywhere. Once a photo is taken it is not long before you can see it posted on facebook, flickr, picasa or the Vietnamese site xom nhiepanh.com.
I like looking at these images, even though they don't mean anything to me. I appreciate them because they are significant to the people who took them or appear in them. Keeping and sharing a photograph stops a moment from running away. Beginners can track their progress and show their efforts to the world.
Photography is becoming a very hot trend in Viet Nam. It attracts young and old who become equally passionate about it. Today, the accessibility of modern devices such as digital cameras and smart phones means photography is increasingly immediate. People can take a photo anywhere at any time. It is closer to life.
As a result, people are abandoning plans for coffee or the cinema, preferring instead to visit beautiful or interesting places with their cameras. They may vary from inspired artists to professional photographers to hipsters with overpriced cameras – but they all love their hobby.
It can be a frustrating past-time to begin with. Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer and the father of modern photojournalism once said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." Some people spend lifetimes looking for the elusive perfect photo.
One such obsessive is Vu Manh Duong, a young person from the mountainous northern Lao Cai province. "Photography helps me record beautiful and enjoyable moments in my life," he says. "I often cycle to the countryside to take photos that I can share with friends. I am always trying to improve my skills."
Although he only joined a photography group two months ago, he has invested about VND70 million (US$3,360) to buy a camera and lens kits already. To get started he concentrated on honing his skills with wedding photography and fashion shoots, before realising his passion is for photojournalism.
Tran Manh Linh, a regular visitor to the mountains in Ha Giang, loves trekking, known in Vietnamese as phuot. He enjoys climbing the mountains with groups of friends who all take photographs and share tips and experiences.
He is a member of a renowned group, who all use digital cameras. This is unusual as in Viet Nam in general and Ha Noi in particular, most people favour cameras made by the two major brands Nikon and Canon.
According to Truong Duc Thang, an active member of the Pentax Viet Nam group, members often find traditional trade villages to test new lenses and find good angles to take nice shots.
Nghiem Anh Quan, 23, a resident in Cau Giay District, is another who is passionate about photography. He is refreshingly honest when talking about the work needed to become skilled in the art. "I am definitely not a photographer. I am just an ordinary person who loves taking photos. During the past few years I had been photographing a lot, however, my efforts were not good because I seemed to be doing it blind, without any basic knowledge of the principles of good photography."
However, Quan eventually managed to get his hands on a DSLR camera, and began to learn more about photography with his friends. His point of view is gradually changing, and while he is still in the habit of going out to take as many photos as he can, he feels better prepared than before.
"For me, photography is all about practice. The more you practice, the better you get, and the better your photos are. Sometimes the camera does matter, but it is not really a big deal. The camera for photographers is like shoes for soccer players, it makes it easier for you to produce photos and achieve your goals. However, it does not guarantee you the best shot of your life. A good shot depends on your own performance. So as long as you know the basics and you practice well, you can improve your photography skill."
Ansel Adams (1902-84), the famous American photographer once said, "You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved."
Your pictures are an extension of you and what you want to say. They transcend language and take on a universal meaning. I think this is why their photography is becoming so popular in Viet Nam. People want to be heard.
Adams once summed up the appeal of photography perfectly. "When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence." — VNS