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French photographer donates iconic photo of smiling old Vietnamese woman to museum

Update: March, 10/2016 - 10:07
Say cheese: Hidden Smile photo by Rehahn Croquevielle

HA NOI  – Popular French photographer Rehahn Croquevielle on Tuesday donated his famous photo of an elderly woman in the central city of Hội An to the Vietnamese Women Museum.

He took the portrait of Bùi Thị Xong during one of his visits to the ancient city in 2011, when he was taking photos for his Hidden Smiles collection.

The photograph features the 73-year-old boat woman on the Hội An River, focusing on her wrinkled skin, bright eyes and her hands covering her mouth and forehead.

Of the 50,000 photos he took in Việt Nam, this photo ranks among his favourites.

“She was 73 then,” Croquevielle told Việt Nam News. “I saw many young and old ladies on the boat in Bạch Đằng Street (Hội An) inviting tourists to take a cruise. I saw one lady with a special, glowing face and very kind, beautiful eyes.”

Croquevielle took the boat tour with Xong and took many photos of her. 

“When she smiles, she covers her mouth with her hand as she is shy about her front teeth,” he said. “She looks so beautiful in the picture, and I feel she is like a child.”

The iconic photo was published in the Los Angeles Times on December 1, 2014, and was used on the cover of his photo book Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrasts, which was published in the same year. The book is a collection of nearly 150 photos by Croquevielle, featuring the people and landscape of Việt Nam.

Xong’s portrait has also been published in various newspapers, international magazines and online exhibitions.

To share his success, Croquevielle gave Xong a new boat she had wanted, as a gift.

Xong said she was happy to make friends with Croquevielle and was moved by his concern for her and her family.

“I can feel his love for the Vietnamese people and our country,” she said.

“I saw the picture for the first time at Rehahn’s shop here,” Pierre Jean Hatier, a French tourist, said. “It’s the same as almost every other picture by Rehahn, very simple yet very artistic. She is shy, but she is smiling with complete joy. It makes me feel joyful too."

According to Director of the Vietnamese Women Museum Nguyễn Thị Bích Vân, the museum has received many donations from agencies and individuals.

“Such a photo is best showcased here in our museum,” she said. “I can think of several exhibitions that have featured only a single object in noted museums around the world. This Hidden Smile photo could be the centerpiece of such an exhibition.”

The photo will be permanently displayed at the museum on 36 Lý Thường Kiệt Street, Hà Nội.

Croquevielle has sold his photos to various noteworthy magazines, such as the Los Angeles Times, Conde Nast Travellers and Daily Mail. He also has a large number of followers and fans on his personal Facebook page.

He said one of his philosophies was to take great care of the model.

“The model is the most important,” he said. “Think of the model first. When you meet someone and you respect them, you can sit on the floor and speak a little with them, and they will feel comfortable enough to act naturally in your photo.” -- VNS



Proud: Nguyễn Thị Bích Vân, director of Vietnamese Women’s Museum (second from right) gives flowers to Bùi Thị Xong, an elder from Hoi An at a ceremony of handing her portrait by French photographer Rehahn Croqueville (second from left) to the museum held in Hà Nội on March 8. VNS Photo Lê Hương
Ready for my close-up: 78-year-old Bùi Thị Xong poses next to her portrait by French photographer Rehahn Croqueville at a ceremony at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum yesterday. VNS Photo Lê Hương


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