Photographer Á gets entranced by a traditional ritual

Update: January, 09/2018 - 09:52
Seeing eyes:Photographer Nguyễn Á. — Photo
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Á is bewitched by the hầu đồng ritual, where a medium goes into a trance and incarnates as various deities.

The photographer has witnessed thousands of these rituals in different parts of the country for more than 10 years, and captured them from as many angles, but his fascination remains even after publishing a new book on Saturday in Hà Nội.

The launching ceremony was accompanied by an exhibition of select photos from the book.

The hầu đồng (or lên đồng and hầu bóng) ritual, a shamanistic worship of the Mother Goddess that has been recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage, can last up to seven hours, during which the practitioner, a medium, incarnates a series of different deities and spirits, changing into a different set of costumes for each incarnation.

On fire: Nguyễn Thị Nhỡ performs a hầu đồng dance in. Photo Nguyễn Á.

Once the medium is “possessed,” he or she may perform a dance or imitate an action of the deity, including fencing, rowing a boat and drinking wine.

The process is normally aided by chầu văn (ceremonial singing) performances by musicians and singers, which invoke the deities and induce the trance.

Á, based in HCM City, is already well-known for his collections on disadvantaged people, soldiers and people living on the Trường Sa (Spratlys) Archipelago and several UNESCO-recognised heritages in Việt Nam. He holds the EFIAP title granted by The International Federation of Photographic Art for excellent photographers.

Artist’s view: Musician Nguyễn Cường looks at Nguyễn Á’s photos. — Photo

“I did not know much about hầu đồng earlier, because it is rarely performed in the southern region,” said Á.

“But when I attended a ritual by chance, I was totally hooked.

“I could understand the human and cultural values of the hầu đồng ritual, how it was motivated by people’s desire for good things, and how it presented the quintessence of traditional culture.”

The 420-page book is a selection taken from uncountable number of photos taken over 10 years as he traversed the country, attending many hầu đồng rituals and talking with the practioners.

Heaping high praise on the work, Phạm Sanh Châu, Assistant Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on UNESCO Affairs, said:  “This book will not only help people understand more about Mother Goddesses worship and hầu đồng rituals,  but also serve a manual for practioners to consult.”

A deity smiles: Bùi Văn Kiên performs a hầu đồng ritual. Photo Nguyễn Á.

Hard choices

Á said he felt sorry that the book can’t feature all the mediums he met.

“It was hard for me to choose what photos should be appear in the book and what should not, because all of them, and all the practioners I met, are wonderful.”

He said he will not stop taking photos of hầu đồng rituals and expects to publish another book the subject in the future.

Á is currently working on a project taking photos of people who work underground, like miners. He wants to capture the light in their souls even as they work in very dark places, the photographer said. — VNS