In his photography, Billhardt expressed suffering through the iconography of big, expressive children’s eyes. Photo courtesy of the artist
HÀ NỘI A photo exhibition in Hà Nội aims to bring visitors back in time over half of a century to see the city and its people in a memorable period of history.
The photos, which have been unveiled for the first time in Việt Nam, were taken by renowned German photographer Thomas Billhardt.
Consisting of 130 black-and-white and colour photos taken during his trips to Việt Nam, the exhibition gives viewers an honest documentary of the city from 1967 to 1975.
The photos were selected from a huge archive of Billhardt, a special photographer of the then German Democratic Republic, whose photos about the American War in Việt Nam at the end of 1960s earned him the worldwide fame.
The photographer, who was born in 1937, said he had special affection with Việt Nam after setting foot in the Asian country for the first time in 1962.
Hà Nội's tramcar. Through the lens of Billhardt, Hà Nội during this time is the joyful moments. Photo courtesy of the artist
Billhardt photographed the joyful moment of welcoming a child born in the wartime, captured American pilots in camps, crowds bicycling in the rain, outdoor drawing classes with barefooted pupils, the innocent happy faces of children and a stadium with football crowds lost in passionate cheers. All these visual notes make a symphony about life steeped in hardship but brimming with care and love.
“Billhardt’s photos held up a mirror to the world while at the same time strengthening hope. They tell of the world’s social inequalities, of poverty, of suffering, of war, but also of the life and laughter of the people who live in it," Wilfried Eckstein, director of the Goethe Institute Việt Nam, said.
“In his photography, Billhardt expressed suffering through the iconography of big, expressive children’s eyes. His style stirred empathy and solidarity across national borders.”
Nguyễn Thu Hằng, a middle-aged exhibition visitor, said: “Not only I and anyone belonging to my generation, or older generation would have a special feeling when we look at these photos. For me, they are the images of my childhood when I played together with other children on the pavement where several personal bomb shelters still remained.”
Photographer Thomas Billhardt (seen on the screen) talks with local media via Skype right before the exhibition’s opening on Saturday. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
In a conversation via Skype before the exhibition’s opening, Billhardt said he was very sorry that he couldn’t come to Việt Nam due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A foreign visitor looks at Billhardt's photos at the exhibition Hà Nội 1967 – 1975. VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
The 83-year-old, who is still in a good health, also unveiled his upcoming project to take photos of the Alexanderplatz, a large public square and transport hub in Berlin, where he produced a lot of photos for a photo book published in 1958. The project is to show how the area has changed and developed over the decades.
“I want to come back to Việt Nam to do something similar, then I can show people how your country has been changed since the days I first came here,” he said.
Between 1962 and 1975, the photographer travelled to the war-ravaged country six times and has returned several times since then.
The photos taken during these trips have been published in four illustrated books, Pilots in Pajamas (1968), Longing for Peace: Vietnam (1973), Hanoi on the Eve of Peace (1973), and Faces of Vietnam (1978).
The free entry exhibition Hà Nội 1967 – 1975, which is organised by Manzi Art Art Space in collaboration with the Goethe Institute Việt Nam, Camera Work, is taking place at both Manzi, 2 Hàng Bún Alley and 14 Phan Huy Ích Street, Ba Đình District, Hà Nội, until November 15.
A photo book of the same name featuring all the photos presented at the exhibition is scheduled to be launched next week by Nhã Nam Publishing House. VNS