Faces of Vietnam

No 3, Vol.8 ,July – August 2015

A woman wearing heavy clothing to protect herself from the hot sun, carries buckets of salt mined from salt-water ponds north of Nha Trang.

40 years after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, a book titled: Vietnam, 40 Years Later by Robert Dodge, a photographer and former reporter now living in Washington, DC, has been released. The book conveys much meaning about the land and people of Vietnam.
What led him to dedicate so much effort to making the book was that the war was fought against a backdrop of fierce, contentious disputes in America. Periodicals, radio broadcasts, and television were inundated with news about the war, bringing it right into the living rooms of each household every day. That is also the very reason that, since his youth, Robert was interested in Vietnam and took up journalism.

Robert Dodge, the photographer and author of Vietnam 40 Years Later, sits with a group of school children in Yen Bai Province. Photo: Ly Hoang Long

The cover of the book is an image of a middle-aged Northern woman sitting and selling bread on the roadside. Robert selected the photograph because he felt it spoke a great deal about Vietnam’s history. She wears a traditional conical hat, but dons a Western jacket. Her feet are clad in sandals and her shoulders bear a purse, also of Western make. Although she has already aged to maturity, the woman strove to reach out to the world beyond in order to connect with the global economy. The baguette loaves bring to mind the French colonialization. Behind her are youths speeding by on motorcycles.
In Robert’s eyes, Vietnam remains a country that lies deep in Asian antiquity, a feeling which is profoundly felt once one leaves the big cities and goes out to the fields, where the people still labour arduously to produce agricultural products. But in other respects, Vietnam is also a country that is reaching out to the wider world. People can clearly recognize this everyday in Vietnam’s large cities.
Robert shared, ‘Vietnam today is a country of two faces that’s at once primitive, ancient, and somewhat reticent, but also a country that is open-minded and strong, reaching out to receive new things from the world. Vietnam is an amazingly beautiful country, from her mountain and forest landscapes in the northern highlands to the beaches that run along the seacoast. I find Vietnamese people very amicable and open-minded. In the capacity of a photographer, I am extremely fascinated by every place I pass through and I always come across people who are willing to let me take pictures of them. That doesn’t happen in America or Europe, where people display more suspicion and often avoid photographers.’

A string of billboards line the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City awaiting commercial advertisers

Robert related that, when he came to Vietnam for the first time, he brought a digital camera with him. When he arrived in Hanoi, as he waited for a train to go to Sapa (in Lao Cai Province), he wandered around the city to take photographs. Looking at the colours that revealed themselves through his camera, he told himself that it wouldn’t do to just take black-and-white photographs, since Vietnam is so full of colour. Most of the photographs Robert took on that first journey were of landscapes.
Afterwards, Robert felt that he needed to take more photographs and started to take photos of people. To Robert, the most fascinating thing was to explore the lives of the Vietnamese people. From trades and customs to the culture of the country and the people of Vietnam - Robert captured them all through his lens.n
For more information about the book please see www.vietnam40yearslater.com

Text by Nguyen Quoc and photos by Robert Dodge
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