Book shows Vietnam in 19th century through lens of French photographer

A recently published book featuring monochrome photos taken by French photographer Pierre Dieulefils (1862-1937) sheds light on Vietnam in the late 19th century.

Book shows Vietnam in 19th century through lens of French photographer
Notre Dame Cathedral in HCM City, taken by French photographer Pierre Dieulefils (1862 - 1937).

Through his lens, readers can see how significant architecture and beauty spots changed. While Hue Royal Citadel and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi are kept intact, the landscape and surroundings of Hoan Kiem Lake and Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral look vastly different in the book.

Entitled Đông Dương Xinh Đẹp và Kỳ Vĩ (Picturesque and Monumental Indochina), the book aims to be a museum of images capturing Indochina in the late 19th century, filled with captions about the life and people in Vietnam.

A total of 261 photos by Dieulefils were collected from his trip to Indochina in 1885. He spent most of his life capturing images of people, landscapes, and whatever he found interesting.

Dieulefils was born in Malestroit Village in the Bretagne region of France in 1862. He joined the army in 1883 and was later assigned to Indochina in 1885.

Book shows Vietnam in 19th century through lens of French photographer
Cover of the book Indochina - Picturesque and Monumental, by Pierre Dieulefils (1862 - 1937), newly published book by Dong A Company. Photo courtesy of the company

Two years later, he was discharged and returned to France. In 1888, he returned to Vietnam and became a professional photographer and postcard publisher.

In 1905, he went to Sai Gon (now HCM City) and then travelled to Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

In 1909, he gathered a set of photos on Indochina and published a photo book entitled Indochine Pittoresque and Monumentale: Annam – Tonkin featuring the north of Vietnam.

 

The work earned him a gold medal at the Brussels International Exposition of 1910. Then he released another book entitled Cochinchine - Saigon et ses Environs featuring the south of Vietnam.

In 1913, he returned to France, spending most of his time composing poetry. He died in his hometown in 1937.

Dong A Company combined the two above-mentioned books and published it under the name Picturesque and Monumental Indochina to bring a panoramic view on Vietnam in the 19th century and provide a valuable historical reference for students and researchers.

Book shows Vietnam in 19th century through lens of French photographer
An image of Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake taken by Pierre Dieulefils (1862 - 1937) in the newly published book by Dong A Company. Photo courtesy of the company

Apart from architecture and landscape, the photographer also captured the society and culture of Vietnam through images of northern women wearing traditional long dresses, mandarins of the Nguyen dynasty wearing sophisticated long dresses with patterns and designs strictly regulated by the court, and a troupe with impressive costumes.

The captions and notes in the book were written in Vietnamese, French, English and German. They are translated into Vietnamese by Luu Dinh Tuan and Nguy Huu Tam.

The 280-page book is on sale at bookstores for VND680,000. VNS

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