by Thu Anh
Capturing cai luong glory
Theatre photographer-reporter Huynh Cong Minh loves to captures the spirit of traditional arts with his shooting skills.
He owns more than 30,000 photographs and negative films featuring cai luong (reformed theatre) performers on the stage in different periods.
He began his career in 1950, and spent nearly 15 years capturing the beauty of cai luong artists, their work and their lives behind the curtains.
His camera lens captured stars such as Phung Ha, Nam Chau, Thanh Nga, Thanh Duoc and Ut Bach Lan, who were the recognised kings and queens of cai luong theatre in the 1950s and 60s.
Most of Minh's photos have captions to explain the detail, helping viewers to learn more about the characters featured.
Minh says that he was not a collector, but that "I store my photos because I want to preserve the original and pure beauty of cai luong, the south's traditional music, and introduce it to the world".
Minh's collection highlight is the many black and white, and coloured photos featuring three of the most famous cai luong singers, former artist Phung Ha and her students, former actresses Thanh Nga and Kim Cuong.
In these photos, the performers perform in plays like Doi Co Luu (The Life of Ms Luu), To Anh Nguyet, Lan Va Diep (The Love Story of Lan and Diep), and Son Nu Pha Ca (Pha Ca- Mountain Girl) - which shot the veterans to fame at very early age.
With Minh's photos, viewers can see not just beautiful artists in colourful clothes, but also learn about their different styles of performance during particular periods of the history.
A part of Minh's collection was published in four picture books entitled Vang Bong Mot Thoi (The Glory of Time) by the Sai Gon Cultural House in 2006. The books have since been republished.
Traditional music professor Tran Van Khe and theatre critic Nguyen Thanh Chau believes the worth of Minh's collection is invaluable. The collection is useful for many people, mostly theatre students and teachers, but also cultural and traditional art researchers.
Plump statues bring good luck
Vietnamese, especially business owners, worship Ong Dia (Land God) statues, images of a small fat, smiling man, hoping he will bring them good luck and plenty of cash.
And once new houses have been built, the little figures are not discarded. Most Ong Dia are made of clay or ceramics but for lots of families the good luck ornaments will always be gems.
Ong Dia of all sizes and colours are every where - on shelves, tables and on the floor in pagodas, temples, markets and the houses of business people throughout the country.
Normally the figures are the size of a small cup, but some are as tall as 25cm. The Gods stand, sit cross-legged, or lean on and ride tigers and often hold fans made of leaves.
But no Ong Dia statue would be considered of value without the trade mark symbols of good luck - a fat belly and delirious smile.
"For Vietnamese, big bellies symbolise prosperity," Huynh Van Trang, a cultural researcher of HCM City, said.
Trang worked with the HCM City's Art and Culture Research Institute to publish a book about the art entitled Ong Dia (The Gods of the Land).
According to him, statues will be dumped if their owner feels they have failed to bring in enough dosh.
Trang has collected many Land Gods and found that there aren't really any patterns. Craftsmen make the statues from their own imagination and creativity.
"This is a people's art. The little men present on altars at pagodas, temples and at people's houses catch your attention because they are cute and beautiful. Their smile is always intact despite their plight," he said. — VNS