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Photographer Tran Viet Van: Learn to listen to the voice of emotion

VietNamNet Bridge – A photo collection entitled ‘Tuong Tran Thoi Binh’ by photographer Tran Viet Van has recently won the gold medal in the portrait photo category and the bronze medal in the regional journalism photo category
VietNamNet Bridge – A photo collection entitled ‘Tuong Tran Thoi Binh’ (Vietnamese Generals in Peacetime) by photographer Tran Viet Van has recently won the gold medal in the portrait photo category and the bronze medal in the regional journalism photo category at the Prix de la Photographie, Paris Px3 (France).

Nhan Dan (People) newspaper took this occasion to hold an interview with him to listen to his thoughts about stimulating creativity and developing professional photography in Vietnam.




Photographer Tran Viet Van.


How did you come up with the idea to start the ‘Tuong Tran Thoi Binh’ collection?

I started taking the first pictures for the set in 2009, but the idea for starting a photo project on Vietnamese generals was sparked in my mind a long time ago. I wanted to discover the daily life of these famed generals.

The fortunes smiled on me in 2009 when Lao Dong (Labour) Newspaper, where I work, asked me to take photographs at a reception at General Vo Nguyen Giap’s private house for former Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh and a delegation from the Academy of Vietnamese Military History on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu Victory (1954 -2009).

That was how my project kicked off.

How did you carry out the project?

The photo set portrays 13 Vietnamese generals. I intended to focus on famous generals from different service branches who are well-known for their feats.

However, it is not easy to make an idea come true in photography, particularly when you want to capture the spirit of the generals in your works.

For instance, to catch the daily moments of lieutenant general Pham Xuan The, I was at his house at 5 am and I joined him in his morning exercises and his breakfast.

The project earned me a chance to have long talks with the veteran generals and to listen to their interesting and moving stories. Their sharing helped me decide which aspect I should focus on to portray them in my photos.

What do you think about the generals in peacetime?

They are all special. Although most of them did not receive any official training about military tactics, they defeated talented and well-qualified generals from France and the US.

For them, comradeship is the most scared and treasured thing. Major General Nguyen Duc Huy has said that only in the Vietnamese army, soldiers were ready to scarify their lives to guard their commanders from bullets. I wanted to convey that message through my works.

What did the generals think about your photos?

After my exhibition, I presented them with their photos and they liked them. Many of them hang the works in their houses, and I am very happy for that. I would like to express my love and gratitude for the special characters.

You are a journalist of Lao Dong newspaper, what brought you to photography?

I think every man has his own way to express his viewpoint about society. I find photography a way to refresh my life and fuel my inspiration for creativity.

But I think that careers in arts should be done in a professional way. In addition to expressing personal ideas, I also focus on the social effect of my photos.

What do you think about professional photography in Vietnam?

There is always a gap between an idea and how to make it come true in real life. It is difficult to follow professional photography in Vietnam. Everything is available for hire in foreign countries, from models and backgrounds to assistants. But in Vietnam, a photographer has to deal with every problem on his own.

The collection helped you win two major prizes. Can you share your feelings about these accolades?

Prizes are not what I seek for when entering any competition. I just think that professional contests, which are judged by a world-leading jury in photography, provide me with a good opportunity to exchange with my colleagues, evaluate my capacity and to evaluate whether my creativity was accepted and appreciated.

I think a photographer should not attach much importance to prizes. You win a prize and you may think you are right, but it is just right at that moment. So, you should refresh and improve yourself continuously to catch up with the changing society.

Born in 1971, photographer Viet Van has bagged many accolades at world-acclaimed professional photography competitions. He is the first and only Vietnamese photographer to have portfolios collected by Win- Initiative (US), and he was the first and only Vietnamese photographer to win the Paris Px3 for six consecutive years.


It is crucial to maintain your good manner and class, thus, you should read more, watch more and learn more.

What do you do to maintain your class?

I manage to make my works different from others, in the way that I choose my topic and the way I ‘interpret’ it. My topics are not easy to follow. For example, not many photographers choose to capture generals in peacetime.

I have learnt photography by myself. I attended workshops funded by Indochina Media Memorial Foundation, gathering war journalists, who have a special sentiment for Vietnam. They did not focus their teaching on technique, but I learnt much from them about passion and your viewpoint in life. I also learned to listen to the voice of emotion. A photo set should be clear in its expression, and full of emotion. Every work should be connected together.

Source: Nhan Dan


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