Monday, October 15, 2012

POV: The Travel Photographer's Vietnam Mourners

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All Photos © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

It's always a difficult decision to photograph moments and scenes of personal (and even public) sorrow for me (and certainly other photographers as well). 

Traveling in our bus during my Vietnam Photo Expedition-Workshop on our way back to Hanoi, and passing a small town, I saw a funeral by the side of the road and asked Maika to inquire whether we could photograph it. I made the decision to do so in a few seconds, principally because the funeral seemed to be public, not enclosed in a private space or in a home.

"The photographer in me wanted to stay as long as possible..."

The head of the family readily agreed provided I lit an incense stick and presented my respects to the memory of the deceased. This I did, and planted the stick at the shrine. The deceased was born in 1925, and his name was Cu Pham Van Bao. That done, I invited the rest of our group to join the congregation. Some did photograph, while others thought it would be too intrusive and didn't.

I was invited to drink green tea, and sat amongst the head table along with our host. The funeral rite is called le dua tang, and the mourning garb seemed to be made of very coarse
 white gauze...sort of what surgical bandages are sometimes made of. The women wore the cloth wrapped around their heads with straw crowns and a sash. The male mourners used walking sticks made of bamboo and acted as if they were limping and could fall without the stick’s support. These are indications of how overcome the mourners are.

I was surprised that there was a funerary band...and one of them seemed to be a professional wailer.

The photographer in me wanted to stay as long as possible...(had I been alone I probably would have), but while being allowed as a group into their midst by these Vietnamese mourners was immensely gracious, I also knew we were a distraction, and that our time was up after 15 minutes or so.

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