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Exhibition features photographs of Hanoi half a century ago

A photo exhibition in Hanoi aims to bring visitors back in time over half of a century to see the city and its people in a memorable period of history.

In his photography, Billhardt expressed suffering through the iconography of big, expressive children’s eyes. Photo courtesy of the artist

The photos, which have been unveiled for the first time in Vietnam, were taken by renowned German photographer Thomas Billhardt.

Consisting of 130 black-and-white and colour photos taken during his trips to Vietnam, the exhibition gives viewers an honest documentary of the city from 1967 to 1975.

The photos were selected from a huge archive of Billhardt, a special photographer of the then German Democratic Republic, whose photos about the American War in Vietnam at the end of 1960s earned him the worldwide fame. 

The photographer, who was born in 1937, said he had special affection with Vietnam after setting foot in the Asian country for the first time in 1962.

Hanoi's tramcar. Through the lens of Billhardt, Hanoi during this time is the joyful moments. Photo courtesy of the artist

Billhardt photographed the joyful moment of welcoming a child born in the wartime, captured American pilots in camps, crowds bicycling in the rain, outdoor drawing classes with barefooted pupils, the innocent happy faces of children and a stadium with football crowds lost in passionate cheers. All these visual notes make a symphony about life steeped in hardship but brimming with care and love.

“Billhardt’s photos held up a mirror to the world while at the same time strengthening hope. They tell of the world’s social inequalities, of poverty, of suffering, of war, but also of the life and laughter of the people who live in it," Wilfried Eckstein, director of the Goethe Institute Vietnam, said.

“In his photography, Billhardt expressed suffering through the iconography of big, expressive children’s eyes. His style stirred empathy and solidarity across national borders.” 

Nguyen Thu Hang, a middle-aged exhibition visitor, said: “Not only I and anyone belonging to my generation, or older generation would have a special feeling when we look at these photos. For me, they are the images of my childhood when I played together with other children on the pavement where several personal bomb shelters still remained.”

Photographer Thomas Billhardt (seen on the screen) talks with local media via Skype right before the exhibition’s opening on Saturday. VNS Photo Thuy Hang

In a conversation via Skype before the exhibition’s opening, Billhardt said he was very sorry that he couldn’t come to Vietnam due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 83-year-old, who is still in a good health, also unveiled his upcoming project to take photos of the Alexanderplatz, a large public square and transport hub in Berlin, where he produced a lot of photos for a photo book published in 1958. The project is to show how the area has changed and developed over the decades.

“I want to come back to Vietnam to do something similar, then I can show people how your country has been changed since the days I first came here,” he said.        

Between 1962 and 1975, the photographer travelled to the war-ravaged country six times and has returned several times since then.

A foreign visitor looks at Billhardt's photos at the exhibition Hanoi 1967 – 1975. VNS Photo Thuy Hang

The photos taken during these trips have been published in four illustrated books, Pilots in Pajamas (1968), Longing for Peace: Vietnam (1973), Hanoi on the Eve of Peace (1973), and Faces of Vietnam (1978).

The free entry exhibition Hà Nội 1967 – 1975, which is organised by Manzi Art Art Space in collaboration with the Goethe Institute Vietnam, Camera Work, is taking place at both Manzi, 2 Hang Bun Alley and 14 Phan Huy Ich Street,  Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, until November 15.

A photo book of the same name featuring all the photos presented at the exhibition is scheduled to be launched next week by Nha Nam Publishing House. VNS

Hanoi from 1967 to 1975 as seen through lens of German photographer

Hanoi from 1967 to 1975 as seen through lens of German photographer

A photo exhibition featuring images of Hanoi from 1967 to 1975 taken by world-renowned German photographer Thomas Billhardt is being held at the Manzi Exhibition Space at No. 2 Hang Bun lane and at Manzi Art Space on 14 Phan Huy Ich.


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