An elderly woman from the H’Mong ethnic minority hides a bashful smile behind hands stained an indigo colour from dyeing traditional clothes.
The majesty of the scenery in Ha Giang: terraced rice paddies, primeval forests, cloud-covered paths, striking mountains.
Stunning daily life in Hoi An: splendid skies, bright sunrises, romantic sunsets, the contours of the river.
These are some of the snapshots to be seen in photographer Réhahn’s latest photo book, Vietnam - Mosaic of Contrast Vol II, a much-anticipated sequel to his previous success. Originally from Normandy, Réhahn had a hectic life in France before he made the biggest decision of his life and packed up and relocated to the ancient town of Hoi An and took up professional photography as his new career. Since then he has taken numerous trips to some of Vietnam’s most far-flung corners, fascinated by the country’s natural beauty and captivated by the heart-warming hospitality of its people.
With a compilation of 150 of his best shots from 2014 and 2015 Réhahn presents the best of Vietnam: its people, landscapes, seasons, mountains, towns, and countryside. And smiles. There are lots of happy faces in his book: from the cheeky grin of a little Co Tu girl and the beaming delight of a Red Dao woman to the cheerful eyes of a Prao grandfather.
The book consists of four themes selected to introduce contemporary Vietnam in all of its mosaic colours. The opening brings you to the wonderland of young children, often full of laughter and curiosity. Childhood as shown in Réhahn’s photography is like a firework, an explosion opening up your imagination. Once upon a time there was this little happy girl who lived in a little village by the mountain. A huge elephant was her best friend and the biggest banana leaf was used to shelter from the rain.
This story could go on and on …
The next chapter portrays the elderly, who are seen as synonymous with wisdom, tenderness, and sympathy. Years of hard work have earned these old souls their graceful wrinkles but haven’t taken away their joie de vivre. You can tell a lot by gazing deeply into their eyes. The finest of Réhahn’s techniques are revealed in these rustic portraits. And the stunning hands must be mentioned, on which time has drawn its lines and the sun, wind and rain has tanned its warm colours.
Robert Capa once said, ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.’
Except for some landscape shots that require tele-lenses, Réhahn has followed Capa’s advice. As a portraitist he always tries to get physically closer, to become more involved and intimate with his subjects. Sometimes he spent up to three hours getting to know his subjects, talking to them before shooting photos in natural, unguarded moments. There are not many captions accompanying the frames, but the pictures of childhood and the elderly in the first two parts of the book invite us to visit local people in their familiar surroundings, to look for the essential soul peeking out, the experience etched on a person’s face, and to interpret stories in our own ways.
Lifestyle is the focus of the third part, collecting flashes of the daily life of ordinary people.
Never a boring movement, life breathes profoundly through each image. Here you see an old Co Tu lady weaving brocade using her body as the loom. Turn to the next page and you will find a farmer planting rice seedlings with mud still dripping from her hands. Next is a group of Cham women walking through massive sand dunes with pottery jugs carried above their heads, looking as if they were performing a ritual. The characters in Réhahn’s works never spend a dull moment; they dance beautifully in the rhythm of life.
In this part of the book it is easy to feel the love Réhahn has for Hoi An, his home away from home. Hoi An shines in his shots as a magical yellow city: a street vender walking in the beaming afternoon sun, a farmer in her aromatic herb garden in Tra Que, the flow of the timeless Thu Bon River, a gorgeous young woman in her iconic, pure white ao dai seen on pretty Nguyen Thai Hoc street.
The book closes with landscapes. Vietnamese nature through Réhahn’s lenses is sweet yet epic. He complements the glory of mountains, the tenderness of water, the grace of light, the figure of a lonely tree, the romance of a fading afternoon, the enchantment of sunrises. In these final pages, for a moment, time stops and you are taken to a far away land where promising adventures await. The country reveals its unique charm and presents an invitation for further exploration.
More than a stock of images, Vietnam - Mosaic of Contrast acts as a portal into the lives of Vietnamese people the photographer has met and the distant lands they inhabit. To complete the book Réhahn travelled to 35 destinations all around the country, engaging with communities of various different ethnic minorities. He proved his artistic sense in always being curious and amused with what he saw along the way, possessing an ability to merge seamlessly with a different culture and document the human experience with astute eyes.
These beautiful shots by Réhahn are a photo diary from the wonderland, and above all is a work done with lots of love.
From 4 March to 15 April a selection of Réhahn’s photographs will be exhibited at the second Culin’Art exhibition of the InterContinental Nha Trang (32-34 Tran Phu St., Nha Trang). The collection illustrates the extraordinary range of subjects he has captured throughout his eight years of traveling around Vietnam, bonding and capturing the soul of its people, especially minorities.
To see more of his enlightening snaps go to rehahnphotographer.com or visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/Rehahn.Photography.