BY RITCH PICKENS
(No.7, Vol.6, Sep-Oct 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Mr Thiery Beyne
Top end hotels and the art world are often natural partners. Artists and in this case a photographer welcome the chance to exhibit in a public space frequented by many people including some affluent enough to be able to buy art. The hotel gains prestige by associating itself with a finer side of life and itself attracts more people to use its services. The Eastin Grand Hotel Saigon has opted to hold Thiery Beyne's exhibition of photographs with the title of ‘Back Photography’ in its Cafe Saigon. Here is also where you can enjoy a themed South East Asia buffet dinner put together by innovative newly arrived Executive Chef William Ong. On your many trips from your table to the various food stations you will have plenty of time to appreciate Thiery's vividly coloured photos.
When I received an invitation to see the show I have to admit I was sceptical. It is portraits people want to see-pretty female faces or a least interesting ones that show character was what I thought. What could be interesting about the back of women’s heads? Who on earth is going to pay eight million dongs for a framed photo of anything yet alone this bizarre topic, I further mused. One step inside the cafe and these notions and prejudices were blown away. I was quite stunned.
The first picture to catch my eye was of the back of the head of what appears to be a young minority woman wearing a multicoloured iridescent head dress. She has long jet black braided hair and is wearing a blouse that matches the head wear. Very aesthetic indeed! I wondered if M. Beyne hired models but no I was informed that his subjects are just those that caught his attention while out in the street or in markets.
There are photos of young women. One is wearing a dashing yellow ao dai and you see in great detail her long braided pony tail. Another has a crimson ringed hat popular in the North around her locks. Yet another a girl in minority dress has a beautiful starry tatoo on the nape of her neck. One can only wonder what their faces might be like. I have had a few disappointments in real life on this!
It is not all glamour though. M.Beyne is not afraid to show us the old and the worn. There is an old lady's head well wrapped up in both red shawl and black scarf. There are battered motorbike helmet and darkened frayed conical hat wearers. The hotel's General Manager Herr Markus Schneider remarked that his favourite picture of a head wearing a helmet over a conical hat. ‘But’, that added if you tell that to the Vietnamese and you leave them utterly incredulous that someone would want a picture of a poor person -different cultural perspectives.
On to tell you about the buffet spread I had while enjoying the photographs. It was as billed mainly South Asia fare and a culinary way for me to revisit all the nearby countries I have been able to visit while based in Vietnam. However there was also a good selection of breads and European cheeses as well as Japanese sushi and sashimi to savour. It was with these fresh delicacies with their vinegared rice that I started. Actually I should add the seafood that was on offer alongside this. There were clams, bright red crab and I could not resist carrying away four Pacific oysters to add to my overture.
For more substantial fully cooked fare I went to the Malaysian station. From here I had skewers of satay (peanut sauce) chicken, really tasty stingray filleted and cooked in banana leaf over a hot stone grill and fried noodles. I washed it all down with a few flagons of draught Heineken beer. Regarding drinks this buffet can spring a surprise as a wagon serving innovative cocktails makes its rounds.
Whether you are culture vulture or a food vulture the Saigon Cafe buffet will cater for you. If you can not make to see the exhibition the next best thing is to look out for M. Beyne's photo album of the same name which is available at leading book stores.
Mr Beyne’s ‘Back Photography’ exhibition to run from 9 September 2016 until September 2017.
The Eastin Grand Hotel Saigon
25 Nguyen Van Troi Street ,Phu Nhuan District H.C.M. City
Tel: 84 838 449 222