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Aug 27, 2023 / 22:25

Photographer Nguyen A zooms in post-war issues

Through two bilingual picture books, Nguyen A has helped the younger generation and the international public to understand the Vietnam War and thus appreciate peace.

Photographer Nguyen A's two books, published by the Vietnam News Agency Publishing House, feature the 100 photos exhibited in Hanoi and HCM City this month.

The books, titled Returning to Con Dao: Memoirs of Ex-Prisoners and The Unexploded Mines Sweeping Team, were released on July 27 (War Invalids and Martyrs Day).

Photographer Nguyen A and former inmates on the island of Con Dao. Photo courtesy of Nguyen A

Nguyen A said he wrote Return to Con Dao for two reasons. First, he admires the spirit of the political prisoners imprisoned on Con Dao Island by the Saigon regime, but were not portrayed well enough. The other reason is the age of the former prisoners in their 80s, so he made the book to pay respect to those who dedicated their youth and lives to the cause of national liberation.

Nguyen A has published nearly 20 photo books throughout his career, each in a different way so as not to bore readers, each showing the author's serious thoughts about shooting methods and camera angles.

Photographer Nguyen A had five days to visit "hell on earth" with former prisoners of Con Dao. He took the photos with the expectation that the young generation would understand and appreciate peace and the noble sacrifices made by revolutionary fighters in the past.

The most difficult thing was to organize the trip to the relics of Con Dao Prison with the former convicts. With the help of the Ex-Con Dao Political Prisoners Liaison Committee, he was able to reach them. He then submitted the project to the HCM City People's Committee and received a grant of VND300 million (about US$13,000) for the trip to Con Dao. He also spent VND200 million (US$8,700) of his own money on the project.

The photographer confessed that he would not carry out the project without the support of the city and the former prisoners.

The cover photo of this book shows a group of tourists to Con Dao with ex-prisoners. Nguyen A said he was touched when the former revolutionary prisoners of Con Dao became narrators to tell the visitors their own stories during their years of incarceration. Many tourists wept, hugged the veterans and expressed their gratitude, and the photographer himself couldn't hold back the tears.

 Two bilingual books by Nguyen A. Photo: VNA

In the second book, The Mines Sweeping Team, he photographed members of the Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the Effects of the War (RENEW) project, funded by Norwegian People's Aid, which clears unexploded mines and bombs left over from the war in the central province of Quang Tri.

"I think the people working on the project are the young generation who will inherit the strong spirit of the former prisoners. Although they are working in peacetime, their work is fraught with danger to themselves to maintain a peaceful life. They are so brave," Nguyen A said.

With the second book, the key was to follow the organization's rules to ensure safety when going out to photograph the removal of unexploded ordnance.

"The young people in the demining team also made me cry when they said they had seen friends lose their lives or get injured by landmines. Of course, this job gives them a good income, but if they are not brave, they can still make a living from other jobs," he added.

Visitor Chris Pecaut (right) looks at the photos in the exhibition. Photo: Ngo Minh/The Hanoi Times

These people inspire him and give him good energy. They remind Nguyen A to live a disciplined life with the manners of a soldier. The old and the young have shown the photographer what it means to be dedicated to life.

When Chris Pecaut (from the US) saw the photos on display in Hanoi between August 11 and August 13, he carefully read each line of the captions and took pictures of the impressive photos with his cell phone.

He was moved by the stories of former Con Dao prisoners and sympathized with what they had gone through during the war.

He was particularly impressed by the work of the female volunteer team clearing mines in Quang Tri and took many photos of them. He said many Americans did not know the war had left so many wounds in Vietnam. To this day, there are still many explosives on the ground that are killing and injuring people.

"These women are so brave. Just thinking about a land full of landmines makes people afraid, but they live there day after day, detecting and destroying explosives so that people can live safe lives. It's an inspiring story," Chris said.