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Photographers blend into Hanoi (December 16, 2004)

A volunteer prepares for artist Tran Luong's installation, Blending In.
What happens when 60 "accidental" photographers are let loose with cameras in their own city? The stunning results are now on show at the Blending In exhibition at the British Council in Hanoi.

Hundreds of photographs taken by the volunteers, who are members of the British Council’s information centre and students from Hanoi Fine Arts College, form a collective installation.

Images are hung spontaneously and some portraits are placed on the usually banal faces of mannequins, lending them a lifelike quality.

The photographs, which showcase various aspects of participants’ daily routines, are probably not prime examples of photographic techniques, yet reflect what they see and sense in everyday life.

"This is an example of what we call Arts and Culture for Development (ACD) programme," explains Graham Sutcliffe, senior arts manager of the British Council.

Over the past two years, the British Council has worked to raise awareness among artists and the development community about how they can use arts like theatre, dance or photography to explore social problems like poverty, sex work, street children and HIV, he said.

This "photovoice" project, which began in November, started with a workshop, where participants aged from 17 to 30 were encouraged to talk about themselves and important issues in their lives.

After this each member was equipped with a disposable camera and a roll of film to take 36 shots of their community over three days.

The amateur photographers then gathered again to share their photos and experiences in approaching people to take pictures. At this meeting they also selected images for the exhibition and discussed ways to display them.

"What we gain from the project is not photographic skills," Duong Tuyet Nhung, a senior student from the Hanoi University of Technology told Vietnam News.

"We are rewarded with a fresh way to view things in our lives."

Nhung says the camera offered them means to make contact with people, because if they wanted to take someone’s picture they had to seek permission.

She believes the interactive games at the workshops were a positive way to help participants focus on their community and examine things more carefully.

At Monday night’s launch some of the volunteers mixed in the crowd with their images pinned to themselves, which were later affixed to mannequins.

Visitor Pham Toan, a retired primary school teacher, was impressed that the images were not simply framed, noting "it’s a great idea to let the artists drape their photos over their bodies."

Toan says the exhibition gave him new insight into young people and their views on life, especially after devoting his career to teaching.

With assistance from UK arts organisation the David Glass Ensemble, the British Council launched a three-year project to bring together Vietnamese artists and development practitioners for community arts last year.

This photography project was devised to provide real-life experience of an arts in development project in Vietnam, so participants could learn firsthand some of the skills and principles involved.

Next up the British Council plans a forum to gather those interested in and already involved in this emerging sector in Vietnam.

Blending In is showing in the front yard of the British Council, 40 Cat Linh Street until this Sunday. (VNS)

Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper


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