Vietnam Heritage Photo Awards 2012 a gala performance


(No.12, Vol.2, Dec 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

After months of intense preparations by staff of this magazine, numerous sponsoring organisations and not the least by the 198 participating photographers themselves, the Awards Ceremony for Vietnam Heritage magazine’s photo competition finally took place, coinciding with Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day on 23 November at the Rex Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.

Journalism students from the University of Social Sciences & Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City.
Photo: Ba Han

This was just the start of a celebratory morning which featured speeches and traditional music and dance as well as, of course, the showcasing of the photographs themselves. After the prize-giving, participants proceeded to the Municipal Museum nearby to see a full exhibition of photographs, and the winners and VIPs were treated to a buffet lunch at the restaurant of one of the sponsoring organisations, the worldwide French hotel and catering training organisation, Vatel.
Before the show actually got underway, invited guests had a chance to mingle and view the entries of the nineteen prize winners. Of the two first prize-winning pictures, one provoked no controversy at all. To take his panorama of Ha Long Bay’ Karst Islets with rays of sunshine beaming onto a small fishing fleet in a secluded bay, I wondered how long Nguyen Phung Chi would have had to have waited for just the right moment to shoot. Whilst some I spoke to thought Nguyen Na Son’s shot of a cross-section of a felled tree trunk with black sap streaming down it a deserved winner, many were left baffled as to what the technical merit was and just how specifically this might be a comment on forest mismanagement.
The large conference hall was packed not only with local dignitaries, sponsor staff and the prize recipients, but also a large contingent of journalism students from the University of Social Sciences & Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. It was clear that the latter had been given the brief of practicing their interview skills. I found myself beset by a procession of young and mainly female aspirant reporters anxious to hear my views and practice their English. The set of photos that had had the most effect upon them was, interestingly, not as I would have thought-the one on forest degradation. What had grabbed their attention the most had only won a runner-up prize. It was on the brutality of monkey hunting.
The ceremony itself opened with a vivacious performance of Vietnamese traditional stringed instrument music. Zithers, dulcimers and lutes-I am sure they were all there. I feel a little ashamed to tell that I am not sure which was which; such is the wealth of Vietnamese music, particularly if you include the contribution of the many minorities. Stealing the show, as child performers sometimes do, was perhaps the smallest of them all-what I would term the Vietnamese ukulele. Actually, it is closer in European tradition to the Portuguese cavaquinho, with the same shrill lively sounds responsible for much of the folk music of the North of that land. Also alluring were the sounds coming from the bamboo xylophone. A little later in the show, matters were further spiced up, as any show is, by a little sax. No I did not misspell the word. It was s. a. x., and the saxophonist, I was told, is renowned in Vietnam. Tran Manh Tuan certainly got the best out of his instrument and proved just why he is such a respected virtuoso.
The speeches were delivered to a background power point presentation of the photographs. Mrs Le Thanh Hai, editor in chief of the magazine, began, followed by Vu Kim Anh, Standing Member of the Cultural Heritage Association of Vietnam, Deputy Director of Culture, Sports and Tourism Department of Ho Chi Minh City and Dao Hoa Nu, Member of the standing committee of Vietnam Association of Photographic Artists, representing both the panel of judges. Mr Noriji Yoshida, Chief of Canon Marketing, captured the hearts of the audience. Although having been in Vietnam for only a few months, he began and ended his speech in Vietnamese and reminded us all that photography is more than pretty images and the recording of precious moments.
After the actual awarding of prizes, we went the short distance to the Municipal Museum for a full display of the photographs. Just how difficult a job the judges had had now became clear, as the standard of entries on view was extremely high. The participants were treated to further Vietnamese culture with a display of men and women in colourful customs and the clashing of gongs and cymbals. This is called ‘Hat Boi’ in Vietnamese. At the risk of offending my Vietnamese friends, I would say Westerners would recognise this as Chinese Opera. It ended to massive applause with each dancer revealing a card spelling out in Vietnamese what I translate as ‘Hail to Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day’.

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