Friday, 02 December 2016 07:11

Portraits of the Past

Written by Peter Scott

Vietnam has 54 ethnic minorities. French photographer Réhahn is documenting all of them


Hoi An-based photographer and gallery owner Réhahn recently published a sequel to his 2014 best-selling coffee table book Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrasts. Now, that remarkable series of portraits of ways of life and people who have yet to be swept into the modern age has inspired him to move forward with a new project, the Precious Heritage Collection, where he shares his belief in the importance of recognising and preserving these marginalised communities.


“My main focus is the people that represent this culture because without them, their unique traditions will surely die,” he says. “I take some photos of their lifestyle and their living conditions but the pride these ethnic tribes feel when they wear their traditional costumes is what fuels my passion.”


This project goes further than before in documenting the lifestyles of these remote communities.


“I’m documenting my own exploration of each tribe and their cultural traditions,” he says. “The gallery museum will house their photos as well as costumes and some small treasures like jewellery and pipes.”


Réhahn has visited over 40 of Vietnam’s 54 recognised ethnic minorities in the past five years, some of which are on the verge of disappearing, as the elders die off, powerless to prevent younger group members seeking out modern lifestyles elsewhere. He is especially fascinated in documenting small groups such as the Brau, which has under 400 remaining members, and the O Du of Nghe An province, which has even fewer.


“When arriving at a village, I usually meet the elders because they have the most captivating stories,” he says. “When they speak of their culture, their faces light up, but when they speak of the lack of interest from the younger generation, I see sadness in their eyes. Their stories inspire me.”


The Museum


The result of this effort is the Precious Heritage Gallery Museum, being built in Hoi An.


“This is a culmination of five years of my work. The concept is for people to go on an explorative journey through my lens and it will be free and open to all,” says Réhahn. “We are lucky to have the support of the local government and the community because we believe this gallery museum is significant for cultural preservation, and will add to the attraction of an already beautiful and special Hoi An.”


Seeing these groups and working with them has given Réhahn a greater understanding of heritage.


“Vietnam is a country that is rich in cultural diversity and I think it’s important to be proud of that heritage. Where we come from are the roots that keep us grounded and it prepares us for where we are going in life. I found myself in many ways here in Vietnam and this project is my gift to Vietnam.”


Réhahn’s dedication is inspiring, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 13 December 2017 08:20
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