Le Bich: Photographing relics is a natural passion

(No.5, Vol.8,Oct-Nov Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Kien Thai Vuong tomb (Father of Emperors ) in Hue City

Spring in Lao Xa Commune” (Ha Giang) won 2nd prize of “The Beauty of Viet Nam Photo Competition” organized by The People Television in Febuary 2018

Le Bich is a seasoned photo reporter who has for many years collaborated with tourist journals such as Wanderlust , Travellive. Vietnam Airlines’ inflight magazine Heritage. To him, photographing relics has become a natural passion, especially after long ramblings in the countryside, busying himself with village wells and craftsmen’s tales.

To date, Le Bich has already hoarded a sizable collection and held five personal exhibitions, all on the theme of heritage, including ‘The carriers of the cream of Hanoi’, ‘Vietnam’s traditional trade villages’ (in Mozambique), ‘Trade villages in spring’, ‘The soul keepers of mid-autumn’, and most recently, ‘Colors of life’.
The really remarkable quality in Le Bich’s photos is the natural order of the stories behind each and every picture. Hidden in them is the cherished ideal of the photographer-artist dedicated to capture those stories and more in his photos. ‘Without being photographed in the journalistic style, maybe someday nobody will get to know about them.’
A few minutes talking to Le Bich is enough to get an impression of a passionate photographer, very sensitive about simple, small, old things, from the village wells that have become nothing but symbols, to the few remaining artisans who make traditional mid-autumn toys for children, to rustic women in the craftsman workshops, exhausted but oozing life.
Asked why he chose photography, Le Bich said that as a young man, he didn’t love it that much. Having graduated from the University of Foreign Languages, Le Bich worked for a foreign company and moved up to a managerial position. It took quite some time before he finally realized his real destiny. It was even harder to start over again. But then, what is the value that lasts? To him, it was photography.
Up until now, the more he walks on earthen paths of the trade, the more poignant he feels about the saying ‘Do what you love and love what you do’. Thanks to the journey through more than 300 villages all over Vietnam and meeting thousands of people and listening to their stories, heritage photography became his heart’s passion, and a very natural one at that. The blending of patriotism and empathy gave him motivation to record the invaluable heritage of Vietnam in his photos.
Le Bich’s ways and style may make the false impression that he is too picky, unlike anybody else. He seems to be always looking for untouched corners and dust-covered antiques. But the truth is, 12 years of searching has reconfirmed that he was right to pursue this passion. He overcame things that could dispirit anybody else. He walked long, lonely, bumpy roads, taking pictures of the same things over and over again until satisfied. The reward comes when he sees the way his photographs are received by the public; he realizes that he was never alone.
The story about Ms Vu Thi Minh Tam, the last of the artisans who make cotton swans, published in Vietnam Airlines’ inflight magazine Heritage was a good example. As it surfaced, some people came from as far as Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi to buy out all the remaining swans. A foreign news man came to Ms Tam’s house with the article about her in his hands to write about her. When she met Le Bich again, she shook his hand warmly to thank him for photographing her. As Le Bich recalled vividly, that handshake made him feel moved as never before.
To young people who want to pursue a photography career, Le Bich advises, ‘Doing what you love is very important and may be the first criteria to judge your occupation. Especially, your passion should be useful to the community you belong. That’s the real meaningful value for artists and people who work in the news. At some certain point in your career, you must start thinking bigger, forming clear ideals, and attach your work to what is going on in the country. Sounds like a cliché but that’s what art is. We must capture the character truthfully and beautifully. Aestheticism must be perfect.’
‘In photography, if you are looking for ways to move from amateurism to professionalism you would feel like being in the dark and seeing many bright lights around. You must choose the most suitable one. It’s not clear at the beginning, but as you go on taking pictures, it gradually appears to you, and the rest depends on your dedication. Determination is always worth your while.’
‘The most important thing is to take the plunge. After that, you would need certain qualities and conditions, such as good health, stable financial conditions, firm family support. Speaking some foreign language would be an advantage. You need passion to help you overcome difficulties, but to succeed, your passion has to grow into a real thirst. For young people, it’s great to have a healthy aspiration, as it helps overcome obstacles and bad temptations.’
Every conversation with Le Bich leaves an impression of a truly fervent, candid and lucid man. Despite the ups and downs of life, he remains loyal to his passion. He is in a sense the personification of our country at the current time – moving vigorously toward modernity, but cherishingly preserving its own character. How could it be otherwise when there are people like Le Bich around! People like him make us feel confident in our own love of life, love of the people, and belief that the nation’s noble values will be perpetuated..

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