|Capturing the moment: Nicolas Cornet in action during his "photo hunt" in Binh Dinh Province last August. — Photo courtesy of Nicolas Cornet
by Thuy Hang
HA NOI (VNS) — When he first came to Viet Nam more than 20 years ago, Nicolas Cornet never ever imagined that he would develop a close connection with this country.
After pursuing studies in photography in Switzerland for four years, Corner came to Viet Nam in 1987 to help his friend make a coffee table book.
Amazed by its friendly living environment and unique culture, the photographer travelled here frequently and nurtured the idea of settling down here. He decided to open a photo studio in the bustling city of HCM in the 1990s which kept him here most of the time.
After getting married and siring two boys, Corner had to come back to France to take care of his small family.
However, he still found time to travel between his home country and Viet Nam as well as other Southeast Asian countries to complete his assignments.
In Viet Nam, Corner makes full use of his professional skills to produce some books and hold exhibits. He is also the initiator of some photography projects, including the well-known 24 Hour Project.
"In 2008, I was in Surabaya in Indonesia to create a photo book about this city," he recalled. "As I couldn't find any inspiration for my assignment, I was surprised to find that residents are very sentimental about their city. I thought that was OK. I decided to show in my book what they like about Surabaya, even though the city is not so nice. That is how the 24-hour Project was born." By working with Corner on the project, young photographers got a chance to display their personality in art form and improve their skills.
After debuting in Surabaya, the project was introduced in Toulouse, France, and in Ha Noi in 2010, attracting entries from thousands of people.
Corner revealed that the project was the "spiritual offspring" to which he had devoted his mind, heart and time to develop.
"I want to share all knowledge of photography that I have accumulated in past decades," he said. "However, I always move from one place to another, so it's hard for me to find enough time to open a class on photography. This project absolutely suits my timetable. I am happy to be able to work with young photographers to help them improve their skills." The project has also brought Cornet some good friends and fellow workers, including photographers Binh Dang and Maika, who took part in Corner's 24-Hour Project in 2010.
Binh Dang and Maika became the mentors of 24-Hour Project: I Love My City in HCM City in 2013 and in Ha Noi recently.
After setting foot in all of Viet Nam's 63 provinces and cities, Cornet has published in France four beautiful coffee table books about this country, including one released in 2010 that showcases only images of Ha Noi.
His book vividly features people and their daily lives, specific cultures of various regions and natural landscapes. Each photograph is accompanied by brief text explaining the place or event.
"To help viewers have a deeper understanding of the images, I want to explain to them about specific things and places. I was very serious about writing the text, as I had to spend time searching for information, including talking and discussing with experts," Cornet recalled.
He noted that the release of his books was a good way to promote Viet Nam abroad, "help foreigners know what life is like here and make them curious about Vietnamese culture." He spent about five months in Viet Nam every year to wander across the country or do different photography assignments. Cornet has since established strong friendships with many people here.
"It can be said that half of my life is spent in Viet Nam. I have so many good Vietnamese friends here who treat me like a member of their family. For me, my friends are as important as my family. I am so happy to be a part of their life as I'm always welcome to their family and called ‘uncle' by their kids. I even join their family events such as death anniversaries and funerals," he revealed.
In recent years, showing a great interest in local culture, Cornet has focused on taking photographs depicting Vietnamese culture and has learned more about it.
"I have to travel more and see more things. Alongside these travels, I have studied Buddhism in Viet Nam and the history of Viet Nam. Now I feel confident about writing an article about culture to accompany my photos," Cornet said.
His stories were published in some travel magazines in Italy, Spain, Germany and France.
Cornet said he did not face any major difficulties taking photos in Viet Nam because "I know how to respect local people, I know the rules and I know how to behave. If I see something interesting in a family, I take off my shoes and patiently wait by the house entrance until the house owner invites me in." "Local people tend to overcome their shyness once they realise that I can speak Vietnamese to them," he noted At the moment, Cornet is working hard on some coffee table projects, including a book narrating his own experience and personal feelings while travelling across the country.
"Unlike my previous books, this one will have fewer photographs and more text. In addition, instead of including landscape photos, I will present photos of the people whom I met during my hundreds of trips across the country," he said.
The second book will be about pagodas and temples in Viet Nam. "For most Vietnamese people, pagodas and temples play a very important role in their ritual lives. I hope I can present the unity of the nation as well as its heritage through these pagoda photos," he explained.
Although Cornet has visited and taken the pictures of 120 pagodas and temples in the country in the past one-and-a-half years, he felt the need to work for two more years to complete the book.
Cornet is also taking the first steps to work on a book about endangered primate species of Viet Nam. "There are seven primate species that exist only in Viet Nam. The Vietnamese people should be proud of these national living treasures." — VNS