Life Life

05/05/2021 - 09:33

Saving the villagers’ portraits

“Smile so that I could take a beautiful photo of yours! Now, say cheese!” For the past three years, the young teacher Le Van Truong An has wandered the village paths in Huong Can (Huong Toan Commune, Huong Tra District) to take photos of the villagers.

“How beautiful your photos are!”

Taking photographs as a hobby

Le Van Truong An paid a visit to his home village in 2018, after a long time living away from it. He took a camera with him, thinking that he would take photos of ordinary life of the old people for fun. He then posted the photos on the social media and received positive feedback.

“Some people living away from home village came across their parents or grandparents and they were really emotional. They found ways to contact me just to tell me how they felt and say thanks. The idea of the project ‘I miss the villagers’ came to my mind at this time,” said Truong An.

As Truong An is teaching at Ly Tu Trong High school (in Nha Trang), he is unable to be in Hue very often. However, the young man has managed to visit Hue twice a month on his own budget, self-equipped with a camera to conduct his project. He was well prepared with understanding about the village for the trips back home.

He said: “I must always be clear about my photo-taking plan, including who, how and where in the village I should take photos. I have limited time, say a few days, in each trip back to Hue, so I should spend all the time taking photos to ensure the project punctuality.”

A photo taken together after years of friendship

Viewers cannot resist an appraisal of his photos for their hidden charm. The photos reflect the beauty of ordinary life, telling stories about character’s career and memories. They also beautify the village by the river Bo with a peaceful pace of life.

The desire to save the communal culture

As a teacher of history and a native of Huong Can village, which is known for the sweet mandarins, Truong An has been interested in the cultural values of the home village. He has a strong desire to save his idyllic village, so he has chosen the old-aged people as his models for his photos.

He said when he started to take the portraits of the villagers, he was surprised to know many of them have not had any photo taken for decades. He took photos of them with different backgrounds such as the temple, the yard of the communal house, the river, the rice field, a corner of banana garden after the flood, etc.

While taking the photos of the villagers, he tried to capture the most natural moments of them. He had a funny Facebook status: “If you happen to see a young man wandering in the village path, hiding in pigsty or behind the barnyard, or hanging out in the garden, it is me when I am taking someone’s photos. Don’t try to chase him.”

Notwithstanding, the villagers welcome him once they see him: “Come here to take photos, Truong An!” Truong An always feel highly motivated when he sees the villagers’ bright smiles and happiness to show the photos to their neighbors.

Additionally, he also wanted to create a network of the villagers who had to go far for their living through the social media.

He has overcome the ups and downs in life with his wheelchair

On the first days of his project ‘I miss the villagers’ that save the beautiful moments of Huong Can villagers, Truong An had many difficulties.

He said: “Some people have made conical hats for decades. Some are just well-known in the village for their voice when they sing the lullabies. The old-aged people still maintain the tradition of betel eating and tooth dying.

The long-established cultural values and features are at risk. I am worried that the project could not be completed if I did not hurry.

Therefore, I tried to take photos of the old people in the village whose experiences have been established as “the best (phoenix wings) betel cutter”, “the best conical hat maker”, “the best lullaby singer” or “the best bamboo weaver”… I would like to save the cultural features of Huong Can in particular, and of the nation in general, through the photos. Hopefully, we still know about the cultural beauty of our village in 5, 10 or even 20 years’ time.

The project ‘I miss my villagers’ is expected to complete in the summer of 2021. Truong is trying to finish the last series in his project. On the completion of the project, the photo collection will be exhibited at the communal house of Huong Can village and a suitable place in Hue city.

Story: Dang Trinh. Photos: Truong An