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Artist captures Ha Noi's elusive nocturnal beauty

Update: December, 18/2012 - 10:07

by Bach Lien

Sounds of silence: A photo by Sebastien Laval shows the unique beauty of Ha Noi at night when everyone can listen to the delightful sounds of the capital.
HA NOI (VNS)— Ha Noi at night is a different city: a place where sidewalk corners whisper their stories to anyone who will listen.

Photographer Sebastien Laval has managed to capture these elusive moments. Taken over several years, from 6pm to 6am, his photographs – currently on display at the French Cultural Centre, l'Espace – reveal another side to the gritty city.

"I have always been entranced by the beauty and richness of the colours of Ha Noi in the deep shadows of the night," Laval says. "At night, the city has a poetic beauty."

Looking at the photographs, you can feel the eerie silence of nocturnal Ha Noi. People are almost completely absent, appearing in the frame mostly as shadows. But their homes reveal traces of life.

Visiting little houses in the city's Old Quarter, the photographer has accurately captured the narrow living spaces, with their cramped, sloping stairs and dark rooms heaped with clothes, saucepans, basins and baskets.

"I was very impressed by the colours," said Tran Ngoc Tuyet, a viewer. "The show offers the visual equivalent of a romantic nocturne about Ha Noi."

Love for Viet Nam

Laval first came to Viet Nam in 1995, attracted by the country's rich culture and the hospitality of its people. Since then, he has embarked on a research project documenting the lifestyles of the 54 ethnic groups in Viet Nam. As he witnessed the rapid changes wrought by development, Laval dedicated himself to capturing these unique traditions before they disappeared.

In 2006 Laval's photographs of the diminishing Pa Then minority were shown at the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology in Ha Noi.

The photographer was also invited to show works depicting Hue (Viet Nam), Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang (Laos) in the Hue Festival 2008 and 2010.

The exhibition will run until January 13 at L'Espace, 24 Trang Tien Street, Ha Noi. — VNS

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