Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Portraitist Of Phố Hàng Ngang

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Whenever I think of Hanoi, I especially miss its 36 meandering 13th-century streets of its storied Old Quarter. I read that these streets are almost 1,000-year old, and have a hefty history. They became crowded and lively in the 15th century, and most of them retain their original and ancient architecture.

In Vietnamese, phố means street, and Hanoi's 36 streets carry the names of the professions (or guilds) that used to be carried out in them, For example, Phố Hang Bun is the street where vermicelli was made and sold, Phố Hang Ma is where paper was made, Phố Hang Bac is where silver jewelry was found.

However, Phố Hàng Ngang means 'horizontal street', and it's where I found Nguyen Bao Nguyen. This artist specialized in drawing and copying old (or damaged) photographs in exquisite details; a painstaking task that takes him many days.

I walked over to his store (or atelier) about three times while I was in Hanoi, and on each occasion, I spent an hour or so photographing and watching him draw, paint and fuss about his framed pictures...as well as occasionally meeting with a client. He was very amiable and welcomed my being there with the attitude of one who's used to that kind of attention.

The Portraitist of Phố Hàng Ngang is a series of photographs made with a Fuji X Pro-1/Fujinon 18mm and Leica M9/Elmarit 28mm. It's the sort of short and concise photo narrative that appeals to me...especially that it documents a dying traditional craft such as this one.