For 20 years, the Hanoi-born photographer had traveled to many places across Vietnam to portray celebrities in diverse fields.
The 150 photos in black and white were taken by Ha Tuong between 1975 and 1995. They show not only the images of renowned Vietnamese artists and celebrities, but also rare moments in their daily lives, from a cozy performance of Ca Tru or ceremonial singing by late artisan Quach Thi Ho, to the opening event of Nguyen Sang’s exhibition at the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts in 1984, the very first private exhibition of a painter in Vietnam.
The book also featured a private party at musician Thuy Kha’s house, attended by many well-known artists, including songwriter Trinh Cong Son and musician Van Cao who wrote Vietnam’s National Anthem. Musician Thuy Kha told VOV “Ha Tuong’s photos are a treasure trove full of images of an entire generation of artists. The album is invaluable as it has recorded many almost impossible to capture moments.”
Ha Tuong has taken the portrait of most of Vietnam’s prominent figures in every field, from artists, news reporters, painters, film makers; to scholars, scientists, historians, and ethnologists. Despite taking pictures very casually, Ha Tuong always manages to reflect in his photos the subject’s soul and characteristics, no matter when or where the photos were taken.
“Many artists that I have taken photos of are now no longer with us. I don’t do photography for fame, I want my photos of the artists to portray exactly who they were,” Tuong said.
Ha Tuong and painter Le Thiet Cuong started planning to release the book 5 years ago. The two have known each other since 1986 and often meet over coffee. Tuong once invited Cuong to his home and showed him a nylon bag full of film rolls of famous Vietnamese artists. Cuong said it will be a pity if nothing is done to preserve these film rolls, and came up with the idea to create a photobook.
“Ha Tuong came up with the book title “Nhung nguoi muon nam cu” or “People of the old days”, which was taken from Nguyen Dinh Lien’s poem “Ong Do” or “The scholar”. Tuong is now already 79 years old. It took him a lifetime of taking photos to create a single book which reflects his artistic standards, dedication, and love for photography and all of life,” Le Thiet Cuong said.
Even though many details and people in the photos no longer exist, these black and white photos still serve as a gateway to the past.
“Ha Tuong used his camera to keep history. I think all of his film rolls weigh about 20 kilos, all in black and white. Some of the rolls have been ruined after a long time so we had to carefully select the best of them to digitalize and then gathered 150 photos for the book,” said Cuong.
Time stands still in Ha Tuong’s priceless photobook, which is expected to help the younger generations better understand Vietnam’s glorious art scene of the past.