Friday, 26 January 2018

Beyond The Frame | Vietnam's Bac Ha | Leica M9

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
One of my favorite photographs was made in the market town of Bac Ha of northern Vietnam, known as Tây Bắc (literally "Northwest"). It consists of six provinces, which include the province of Lào Cai.

Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, giving it the richest and most complex ethnic makeup of Southeast Asia. The majority of the ethnic minorities live in the hilly regions of the Northwest. The region is home to the Hmong, Zao, Nung, San Chay, Cao Lan, Giay, and Lolo, as well as the Tay, and Muong.


The photograph was made at the Sunday market in Bac Ha, which hosts around 10 of these ethnic tribes who come to sell or barter their produce and products. Bac Ha itself is a sleepy town that comes alive during the weekend, and when the bartering, buying and selling is done and the tourist buses from Sapa have left, it goes back to bed for the rest of the week.

In common with markets all over the world, "pop-up" eateries spring to life on Sundays to feed the hordes of vendors and visitors who descend on Bac Ha for the day or even for a few hours. 

Aside from photographing the colorful Flower Hmong women who were busy selling their handicrafts, eating ice cream and haggling over bolts of cloths, I chanced upon a group of Black Hmong men eating in silence under a tarp at one of the rickety folding tables. I stood there motionless for a few minutes, and none of them as much as looked up at me from their bowls of pho. I realized that their conical hats (non la) were obscuring their peripheral vision, so they could not see me.

I took the opportunity to hover over one of the men, and snapped a couple of quick shots. They heard the shutter, looked at me for a few seconds....then returned to their bowls of soup. 

I guess they were used to tourists, and were unconcerned about another one taking their picture. Two years later when I returned to Bac Ha, I saw first-hand how the continuing influx of tourists negatively impacted this sleepy little town. 

Even though there are no faces in the photograph, it's unmistakably 'Vietnam'...the conical hat, the bowl of soup, the chopsticks all point to Vietnam.

For my audio slideshow of the Tây Bắc region which includes ambient audio recorded at the Bac Ha market, visit Hill Tribes In The Mist.

Technical details are: LEICA M9 + 28mm. 1/25 Hand Held. f2.8. iso 200. Pattern Metering. Date: 2012-09-22 at 11:49:00 (Vietnam time). Post Processing using Color Efex Pro.