I have spent 2 weeks in Vietnam, where I started from Hoi An, then Hue, Hanoi and further north to Sapa. During the course of my journey, I photographed many people — street vendor, fish monger, novice monk, barber, children, coffee beans seller, old man, Black Hmong, Red Dzao and countless of other interesting characters. But there are only a handful of these portraits that really evoke some sort of emotions within myself. These portraits are not those snap-and-go type of photographs. They involved some level of interactions between the subject and myself before I took the photos of them. I talked to them, I asked them question. Language barrier? Not an issue. I used hand signal. Sometimes, I gave them a pat on their shoulders. When they bow, I bow too. They offered me a cup of tea, and I drank it. If they laugh, I would laugh louder. Am I crazy? Certainly not.
I first noticed about this black hmong girl when I saw her posing with another girl, a local tourist. The mother wanted to take a photograph of her lovely daughter with this black hmong girl. It was not unusual to see tourists posing with local tribes for photographs in Sapa. But seeing the 2 of them standing side by side struck me. Both of them age around 6 years old. Their appearances tell so much about them, but also reveal the huge disparities between them. At such a tender age, the black hmong girl is forced to tout hade-made goods on the street before receiving any formal education. Freckles on her face are the results of pro-long hours of exposure under the hot sun. And the other girl, raised under the burgeoning group of wealthy middle class who benefited from the economic boom of Vietnam, owns a fair and flawless skin. She already has the luxury to do some travelling within the region. But don’t get me wrong! I’m not trying to compare who is better off or making any judgement. I’m just telling you what I’ve seen, and how I feel from what I saw. It’s personal. How I feel about the subject is the reason and the single most important factor why I would take a portrait of a particular person.
As a photographer, I’m merely documenting an event that occurs at the specific location at a specific time. I capture VISUAL facts. Visual facts could be deceiving. To know the facts, you need to communicate with the subject. To go beyond capturing facts and to get genuine emotion and expression out from the subject, it’s not just about creating trust and making your subject feels comfortable with you. For me, it’s more like giving the subjects more space and allowing them to reveal their inner feelings or thoughts naturally. They are often unpretentious and the images usually speak for themselves. That’s why taking portrait is so much fun and so challenging at the same time.
The first 2 portraits of this black hmong girl posted below are my favourites. The girl’s eyes didn’t look straight into my camera. In the first portrait, the eyes are also thrown out of focus. But they don’t bother me much. Rules are meant to be broken, right? I wonder if you like them too. Do drop me a comment and let me know ok?
This portrait (above) resembles the famous portrait of Barack Obama (on the right). The given name of the portrait is “HOPE”. Without hope, it’s almost impossible to live a life. I just love the way they set their sights further, seeing the future with much hope. It’s something we always need, isn’t it?
(Photo credit to ObeyGiant.com/US Portrait Gallery/Associated Press)