Friday, June 25, 2010

When the Rules are in Vietnamese

“Impossible! Permission denied!” During my trip to the Republic of Vietnam I learned to expect stringent restrictions, suspicions and endless surveillance. To start things off, there’s prohibited list. You are forbidden to photograph the frontier, military equipment movements or installations, fuel storage facilities, seaports, railroad junctions, tunnels, railway and highway bridges and so on. Even aerial photography is strictly prohibited.

In Vietnam’s tightly controlled society, just meeting and talking with the average person is a challenge in itself. Even through I could wander about at will in Hanoi, outside the city all movement was closely regulated. This policy is of great value in allowing the government to show off its accomplishments – schools, hospitals, and factories – while quietly hiding its failures.

Even the Government Press Guides both help and hinder. It would be impossible, especially for an American, to work in Vietnam without them. They set up trips, arrange for interviews and protect the visitors from harassment. But their main job is to observe our comings and goings and make sure all journalist and photographers don’t come into contact with “unauthorized” citizens.

But even with all the frustrations, working in Vietnam was filled with fascination and excitement. I like to think of my work as a people-to-people project, and my lens as a peephole into a world seldom seen. I wasn’t always able to get the photographs I wanted, but at times I did manage to penetrate the fears of the Vietnamese people. And perhaps I may have helped calm their suspicions of me, my country and our way of life.

Photo 1 – With the Polish of an adult performer, a Young Pioneer at the Dong Da School in Hanoi sings a hymn of praise to Ho Chi Minh, the constant image in Vietnam’s Capital.

Photo 2 – A worker weaves stands of wool into balls to be used in Rug Making A the Hai Hung Rug Factory.

Photo 3 –A Vietnamese worker trims a hand-woven rug near Hanoi before it is prepared for export. The ornamental rugs will be shipped to Russia, Germany, Canada and Iraq.

Photo 4 –Workers operate a machine that weaves spools of cotton into long textile sheets that will be cut and sewed into towels. The factory makes over 100,000 towels a day.

Photo 5 – A woman sews seams on towels. She is one of 2,000 women workers at the factory.

Photo 6 – A factory stacks towels for shipment.