A good photo story needs deep personal views

Some say photography is a way of delivering by means of photos one’s own messages. That is also what professional photographers would like to show to trainees in a photography workshop themed “Vietnamese Women” hosted by the Institute of France in Vietnam (IFV). Participants aged between 18 and 28 with basic knowledge of photography were welcomed to join the workshop. They were guided by three professional photographers, including Maika Elan, Binh Dang and Nicolas Cornet. Following is a mosaic constructed by the three photography mentors and three trainees under their mentorships.

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A photo of La Kim Tuyen taken by Thuy Tran

Taking place in HCMC and Hue City in late January, the workshop offered a great chance for young photography enthusiasts to learn more about effective techniques for and the art of conveying one’s own messages through photo stories.

In this sense, several great photo stories have been born to the workshop. They are now displayed in HCMC until mid-April.

Maika Elan, mentor

As one of the mentors in the workshop, Ms. Elan likes the way her young trainees share their stories. Each person approaches and explains his/her stories differently. As Ms. Elan is a photographer who develops herself through workshops, she is able to understand clearly what such workshops can bring valuable experiences. She also expects the trainees to adopt open views of a topic. “For instance, the topic ‘Vietnamese Women’ comprises not only portraits of women but also photos depicting feelings you have when seeing the women around you, things and problems these women are facing in their life,” she says. A good photo essay is one that attracts viewers by its content, its look or even what it can go deep inside a viewer when watching it.

Binh Dang, mentor

Binh Dang says the young trainees have passion and are quite boldly in showing their ideas. Therefore, the workshop focuses on characters and stories, not only on photography techniques. It may also help trainees develop comparative thinking and how to work with their ideas.

Nicolas Cornet, mentor

Nicolas Cornet says because over the three decades he has been in touch with the Vietnamese society, he has come to realize that with “Doi Moi” (Economic Renovation), many more local women have taken charge of their own lives and have come up with relevant initiatives to innovate and create their own business. In daily life, Vietnamese women have shown a very strong resilience. The younger generation is the same, says Mr. Cornet. One of his trainees is a young female student who works hard to earn enough money for her studies and the passion for photography. “I admit that I admire them,” Cornet says. “I was happy that in a photography workshop, we could pay tribute to them.”

According to Mr. Cornet, his young trainees focus more on contemporary themes and forms, such as a reflection on gender, a family version on a grandmother, and the positions of women in everyday life. “I would say that young photographers are reinventing the theme, presenting it with new aspects that are broader and more interesting than the traditional aspects alone,” he says. Photography helps young Vietnamese approach diverse and vital aspects of their generation, which is a great quality of photography in the country.

Le Thi Mong Thu, trainee

Born in Hue City, Thu, a teacher by profession, has a special passion with photographer. When the workshop was launched, Thu realized that this was a wonderful chance for her to experience composing her own photo stories. As expected, during the workshop, she gained basic knowledge of photography which soon helped her create a photo essay by herself. She and other trainees exchanged their opinions and shared experience in having a great photo story. Moreover, she learned from the professional photographers how to recount her stories in a coherent way.

Thich Nu Lien Nha, a Buddhist nun, is the main character of Thu’s photo story in the workshop. The nun started to adopt orphans and children abandoned by their parents after she had seen a newborn left at the entrance of Hien Luong Pagoda. She now raises a total of seven kids. Although the nun has to play the role of both mother and father, which is really a burden, she feels happy when seeing her children growing to be good people.

In this photo, nun Thich Nu Lien Nha is pictured by Le THi Mong Thu

Le Dang Ngoc Bich, trainee

Le Dang Ngoc Bich is freelancer and studying MBA. She became passionate with photography a year ago, especially portraitures and photos of stages. Ms. Bich says she loves photography because it may catch the right moments. After the workshop, Ms. Bich learned how to work with her ideas effectively and, above all, found the way to tell messages in her photo stories. Talking about Maika Elan, Ms. Bich says her mentor was of great help. Ms. Elan’s comments helped Ms. Bich know her strengths and room for improvement, says the latter.

During the workshop, Ms. Bich worked on a photo story about a dancer. The dancer was selected to be a member of a dancing group because of her passion and enthusiasm for dancing. Initially, the dancer felt disappointed as she could not perform as well as other members and thus she was not chosen to perform on stage. But she did not give up. After eight years of practicing really hard, she has now become a professional dancer.

A photo of dancer Dung taken by Le Dang Ngoc Bich

Thuy Tran, trainee

Thuy Tran wants to talk about the people she loves and respects and those having their own stories which inspire her and others, helping her find her true self. To do this, Ms. Tran knows that she has to gain more skills, knowledge and experiences. Therefore, the workshop is a great chance for her to learn how to tell her own stories. Moreover, the topic of the workshop, “Vietnamese Women,” is a great source of inspiration to her. Ms. Tran was raised in a family where her dad could meet her for one month a year. Ms. Tran says she is always so proud of her mother because of what she has done for her. After the workshop, she is aware that a photographer has to spend much time researching their topics or characters to have a good photo essay.

The photo story that Thuy Tran made during the workshop is about La Kim Tuyen, who is a transgender person working at Saigon Tan Thoi (Modern Saigon) “loto” spectacle—a Vietnamese version of drag queen shows where trans people perform musical numbers, plays and comedy skits while drawing and calling out numbers for the bingo games. The reason why Ms. Tran chose these characters was that she often felt unlucky as she was born a female who suffered enormously from constraints and prejudices towards women. This inferiority complex was partly relieved when Ms. Tran knew about trans people who dared to “become” real women. The people had the femininity inside which helped them show their happiness. However, choosing to be themselves also required bravery and a trade-off between mental and physical pains.