Hanoi heritage too precious to lose, warn photographers

31 Mar
Change may be inevitable but it should not be allowed to overwhelm a city’s cultural legacy, images of old Hanoi remind us.

An American photographer and his Vietnamese counterpart have raised the bogey of modernization and its effect on Hanoi’s heritage by juxtaposing old and new images of the city at a recent exhibition.

Lawrence D’Attilio displayed more than 30 color photos and Tran Quoc Khanh a similar number of black and white photos in the “Hanoi Tuesday and Today” exhibition held at the capital’s Vietnam Fine Arts Museum last month.

The artists explain, “We should decide what to retain and what to change as the capital will become a modern city some day soon.”

The photos capture succinctly the heritage of the 1,000-year-old city and the duo’s affection for it.
D’Attilio says Hanoi will become an important city and a tourist attraction, changing every day for the better.

But some things will be irretrievably lost in the process, he warns.

The American seeks to create a photo journal of all that is good and bad in the city and leave it to the locals to decide what to preserve and what to develop.

a high-rise proposal by Vincom within Hanoi’s downtown area
One of his photos evokes the future of Hanoi with lots of modern high-rise buildings.

The image is one of sameness and boredom.

He believes beauty can only be created by a diversity of components and colors that make up the whole.

“I come to this city and find lots of interesting things that I can’t in the US,” he says.

“Hanoi is different in many ways from where I live in America. That’s why I want to share my interest with others.”

His favorite photo is that of a gentle old woman who looks very happy, apparently without a care in the world.

Interestingly, Khanh too has a photo of the old woman but in a family setting.

The picture shows several generations of her family living together.

Life may have been hard for them, but the older generations are extremely happy just to see their descendants grow up well-educated.

What will happen will happen

Khanh shows the city’s concern for the traffic problem in a photo titled “An Ancient City with Tall Buildings.”

Then there is a photo of a house standing right in the middle of a street in “The Knot.”

“A Time to Wash the Hands” shows a house beside a railway line, an image that may be increasingly harder to find.

The image of tangled electrical wires in his “Hair of the Street” photo too may disappear once the city has more tall buildings and the wires are buried underground.

The “Inherited House” raises the issue of preserving the ancient city.

No one knows what the owners of the house in the photo think but one wonders, all the same, if they will be tempted by money and sell it or replace it with a modern house – after all, to preserve an ancient house in a large city, one has to swim against the tide of development.

Khanh is very concerned about the pollution caused by northerners’ habit of using coal and “A Substance that Burns Away our Health” warns about its harmful effects on people’s health.

People have a shared interest in the “the gap of words” photo.

It shows the image of a white-haired old man teaching his grandson tirelessly.

The image of a family tutor like that is quite common in Hanoi, especially in families with a medium or high income.

The photographer wants to say that teaching children all the time like that would mean they don’t have time to play and learn about other things which are also very useful for them.

Helping women fight poverty

Not many know how much D’Attilio loves Vietnam.

He works for a community development center and takes photos of poor women to send to international agencies to raise microcredit for small-time entrepreneurs.

Some of the women grow corn, others do retail trade or grow ornamental plants.

So far, 1,000 people have been assisted.

Vietnam Real Estate
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