Bringing Việt Nam to the world: one photo at a time

October 21, 2018 - 09:00

Trần Tuấn Việt doesn’t have that worn-out, dusty appearance of most photographers. Wearing glasses, with a clean-cut look and a confident half-smile, he gives off the impression of a lawyer who had studied his case well before trial.

Buddhist prayers: Hundreds of Buddhists pray on the night of Buddha Day in Diên Quang Pagoda in Bắc Ninh Province.
Viet Nam News

by Bảo Hoa

Trần Tuấn Việt doesn’t have that worn-out, dusty appearance of most photographers. Wearing glasses, with a clean-cut look and a confident half-smile, he gives off the impression of a lawyer who had studied his case well before trial.

Việt has been making headlines in Việt Nam as the photographer with the most photos getting recognised by international magazine National Geographic’s online photo community.

Over the past two years, 26 of his photos have been featured in the ‘Daily Dozen’ – a selection of 12 of the day’s best photos chosen by editors of the magazine’s online community Your Shot.

One of them, Making Incense, was printed in National Geographic’s Vision of Earth magazine in June 2017, and in its Specular photo book this month.

Photographer Trần Tuấn Việt

But Việt is not a photographer by default; he only picked up a camera after earning a degree in architecture and working for years in the IT industry. The thirty-something photographer spoke about visual storytelling and bringing images of Việt Nam to the world.

“I started out with photography in 2007 – it has been 11 years now. But it was not until 2015 that I found my own way of doing it,” he said at a photo workshop in August.

Visual storytelling “is not a genre of photography but a method to convey information,” Việt stressed.

“I pursue visual storytelling to convey stories and my subjective knowledge through photographs,” he told Việt Nam News in an email interview. “They could be portraits, landscapes, daily-life or conceptual photos… with stories behind them.”

Humans are the main subjects of Việt’s photos. His Daily Dozen photos focused on Vietnamese people during their daily routines.

Making incense: A woman dries incense sticks at a craft village in Quảng Phù Cầu Commune in Hà Nội’s outer district of Ứng Hòa.

Making Incense, his most widely-known work to date, depicts a woman in the process of drying incense at a craft village in Hà Nội. Lying around her are bunches of incense sticks turned upside down, looking vibrant with their red and pink colours.

Việt said it took him four months of emailing back and forth and answering tons of questions from National Geographic editors before the photo made it to Vision of Earth.

“I’m so pleased to have an image of Việt Nam featured in such a global magazine,” he said of the photo.

“I had a lot of friends telling me via Facebook that they saw copies of the magazine in Japan, the US, the UK, and asking me whether I wanted them to bring me a copy,” he added. “Those little comments made me happy.”

The achievement had a significant meaning for the photographer.

 “It helped me understand more about the values of visual storytelling, about my capability, and the direction I want to go,” he said. “It did not create pressure for me but quite the contrary: it inspired me a lot.”

Raising ducks: A farmer rears his flock of ducks in Vân Đình Town in Hà Nội’s outer district of Ứng Hòa.

Việt’s efforts won praise from his colleagues, who rejoiced in his success.

A photographer with more than 20 years of experience, Nguyễn Long Hưng, said: “The fact that Việt has 26 photos featured on National Geographic is very meaningful. He has helped promote Vietnamese culture to the world, and such an achievement is very rare for photographers at his age.

“The topics Việt chose for his photos were nothing new and had been done countless times over the decades, but he’s got a fresh perspective,” he added.

“His achievement is a great encouragement for young photographers, because judges at international photo contests tend to be fairer and do not let personal relationships interfere with their job.”

Nam Nguyễn, 25, a photography student from the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, is impressed by the photos’ high aesthetic values.

“They look nice. The composition is good, he has put a lot of thought into them,” he said. “He has utilised editing software well, too.”

Việt said he liked American photographer Steve McCurry and his journey of telling stories that reflect culture, tradition and human values.


Balance: Electric workers sit on electric wires during a day shift in Bắc Ninh Province, some 30km east of Hà Nội. — Photo courtesy of Trần Tuấn Việt

And even though he has brought home many top prizes from domestic and international photo contests, Việt said winning awards is not the ultimate purpose of his practice.

“I would like to do more photography or storytelling projects that are meaningful, practical, and have human values,” he said.

“I want to tell more stories and more powerful stories about love and meaningful things in life – stories that are universal and strive towards values that people from anywhere, of any ethnicity or religion, can feel and understand.

“Those are the values I’m striving for and wanting my photos to convey, not stopping at bringing Việt Nam’s images, culture, tradition and beauty to the world through a particular lens.” — VNS