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German lensman focuses on homeland theme

Update: December, 22/2012 - 09:29


No place like home: The attraction of one's own homeland and the decision to return to it is the link between the main characters in photos taken by Nora Bibel.
HA NOI (VNS)— The attraction of one's own homeland and the decision to return to it is the common link between all the main characters in photographs taken by Nora Bibel.

Bibel first visited Viet Nam some years ago to carry out a photo book project and was immediately amazed by the local people.

"Homeland is a theme I've explored in previous works. But when I hear about Vietnamese returnees, I see it is an interesting event for my homeland subject," said Bibel at the launch of her photo exhibition at the Viet Nam-Germany Centre earlier this month.

The German photographer has visited Viet Nam several times and met Vietnamese people who lived in Germany for several years before returning home.

Bibel travelled though Viet Nam from HCM City to Ha Noi on her journey of discovery. Despite having a list of places and people she should visit, Bibel had greater success making acquaintances with local residents who received her warmly.

"I took photos of them and was allowed to visit every corner of their houses including their altar and bedroom," said Bibel.

Many of the photos displayed at the exhibition were taken by chance when Bibel was in the central province of Ha Tinh.

"One evening I needed to go out shopping and I said "Hello" in German. I didn't expect a German response, but there are some people there who used to live and work in Germany," she said.

The exhibition titled Que Huong (Homeland) showcases portraits of Vietnamese returnees. Lots of Vietnamese live or have lived in Germany, where they are a major group of non-European migrants, but many still long for the country of their ancestors.

Together with Vietnamese homecomers, photographer Bibel set up moments that show traces of home influenced by both cultures.

The scenes appear to be casual but are actually planned and arranged in great detail.

"When I take photos, I research the lives of my characters and set up backgrounds which are suitable to them," Bibel said.

One particularly striking picture, the photo of a man dancing on a mat, was taken to emphasise the character's enthusiasm, according to the photographer.

"He is very open. He told me that he studied valse (classical music) in Germany. When I encouraged him, he stood up and danced."

The dancer was Duong Van Mo, who was sent by the government to study construction in Magde-burg City, East Germany, from 1974-78. After four years he returned to Viet Nam and got married.

Due to the difficulties of life in Viet Nam at the time, Mo returned to the east of Germany working as interpreter. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he came back to Ha Noi in 1990 and was jobless for three years.

At that time, he studied English and is now back in steady employment.

Bibel captured the life stories of the photographed people in interviews and communicates their personal thoughts about "home".

"My homeland is here. It is the place I was born. Here we have a big family and my first priority is my paternal grandchild. We returned home for him," said a note from 62-year-old Le Ba Phu who went to Germany twice in 1968 and 1988 to study and work.

The project was published as a photo book which has been nominated for the German Photo Book Award 2013 by laif, one of the leading photo agencies for photojournalism, magazine and travel photography.

Bibel was born in 1971 and from 1993-99, she studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences in Germany. In addition to her freelance artistic work, Bibel also works as a photographer in the area of travel, reportage and portraiture.

The photographer, who lives and works in Berlin, summarised the exhibition as an exploration of "What is homeland and how do people feel about their homeland after they live abroad for a long time?"

The exhibition is presented by courtesy of the German Embassy in Viet Nam, with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German-Vietnamese Centre.

It will run until December 28 at the German-Vietnamese Centre in Ha Noi University of Technology. — VNS

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