There are many art photography works that focus on a single country, but very few dealing specifically with its people.
Two legendary books exist though, published more than half a century ago: Robert Frank’s The Americans (1959) and René Burri’s Die Deutschen (The Germans) (1962). Then there were Donald McCullin & Jonathan Dimbleby’s The Palestinians (1979), Eugene Richards’ Americans We (1994), Gianni Berengo Gardin’s Italiani (Italians) (1999), Robert van der Hilst & Zoé Valdés’ Les Cubains (The Cubans) (2001), Bruno Barbey’s The Italians (2002), Liu Zheng’s The Chinese (2004), Marc Riboud’s Les Tibétains (The Tibetans) (2009), Raghu Rai’s The Indians : Portraits from my Album (2010), Leonard Freed’s The Italians (2011), Christopher Morris’ Americans (2012) and Olivier Beytout & Leonardo Padura/Una Liutkus’ Les Cubains (The Cubans) (2012). In spite of the wealth of books available worldwide about Vietnam, there would be still not one art photography book that introduces the Vietnamese. This project humbly endeavors to fill that gap.
What could be more challenging than portraying without forgetting its 5 million diaspora, the 96 million inhabitants of a fascinating country characterized by a cultural diversity of 55 different ethnic groups and a past that stretches back 4,000 years? How could we grasp the spirit of a nation without becoming trapped in the clichés of its multifaceted cultural footprint? I have thus refined a subjective vision of the Vietnamese people and their diasporas through a 100-photo series (50 black & white and 50 color). All these symbolic pictures were shot during 35 reportage trips to 20 countries over two decades (1997-2017), the result of chance meetings, as amazing as they were enriching, with men and women from all walks of life. I have selected and ordered them with the greatest care and the deepest respect for my compatriots to reveal the complexity of their soul, character and personality, while, underlying all this, questioning the nature of time, existence and death. In them I found a fleeting reality that shook me to the core and which I have consistently avoided shrouding in an aesthetic discourse that was not my own. Whether real, virtual or mental, the images fuse later with the spiritual music of two Buddhist singing bowls. I also wrote two prose poems in accompaniment to a meditation music and the photographs. I finally wanted to pay tribute to Chữ Nôm, the former Vietnamese script, in this multimedia book known as zixbook which connects picture, text and sound for creating the sensory image.
About Bùi Huy Trang
Born in Saigon (Vietnam) in 1951 and living in Paris (France), I am a Vietnamese-French former engineer and an advanced amateur photographer at heart. During my teenage years in France, I dreamt to become a renowned photojournalist covering the American war in Vietnam like Henri Huet or Kyoichi Sawada. I thus devoured all the international magazines that published the incredible pictures of the best war photographers of the time. But I reluctantly chose to study hard and work in Paris as an engineer in the industry. However I left my soul in Vietnam and my deep-rooted passion for photography never, ever, died. As a self-taught amateur photographer I was awarded in the eighties several prizes in French and international photo contests (Nikon, Olympus, Kodak, Ilford, Reporter Magazine, Chasseur d’Images…).
On a first return to my native land in 1997 I decided to set myself the insane challenge to launch a personal photographic project on the Vietnamese people. With the Zixbook™ concept based on the “sensory image”, an atypical perfect blend of text, picture and sound, I therefore endeavored to humbly introduce both the Vietnamese and their diasporas through a 100-photo series and a spiritual soundtrack. There exists indeed a dozen photo art books only on a country’s people. During two decades I had the opportunity to meet outstanding photographers such as Horst Faas, Nick Ut, Philip Jones Griffiths, Josef Koudelka, Raymond Depardon, Christine Spengler, Izis, Robert Doisneau… All these great artists taught me so much about life and photography. They deeply encouraged me to symbolize the Vietnamese in the best possible way. Philip Jones Griffiths signed for me his mythical book “Vietnam Inc.” with these generous words: For Trang, who is, I am sure, shedding light on Viet Nam! All the best, Philip London, 2006. Horst Faas also offered me these so kind words in signing his legendary book “Requiem”: For Bùi Huy Trang, a photographer of the lasting Vietnam – Horst Faas London, 13/11/2010.
It thus took me 35 trips to 20 countries over 20 years (1997-2017) to finally complete and put in order this “blasted” series. I am currently looking for sponsors in order to promote this damn crazy long-term project entitled “Vietnamese We – Beyond Divides” worldwide through a trilingual art book to publish and future photo exhibitions.