Saturday, 10 February 2018

Beyond The Frame | Vietnamese Mourner | Canon 5D Mark II

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I was rummaging through my archives to pull photographs suitable for my forthcoming photo talk in Shanghai, and picked this one of a Vietnamese mourner at a roadside funeral.

I thought it was be appropriate to feature in this Beyond The Frame post since it will soon be Tết (or Tết Nguyên Đán as the Vietnamese Lunar New Year is called) during which families visit their ancestors’ tombs and clean grave sites. 

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese also have an identical tradition known as Qingming or Ching Ming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day) which is regularly observed as a statutory public holiday in China. In fact, the timing of my photo talk in Shanghai was brought forward to avoid the festival as many people would be traveling to cemeteries at that time. 

This photograph was made at a roadside funeral while I (and other photographers on my Vietnam: North of the 16th Parallel Photo Expedition/Workshopwas returning from Halong Bay on our way to Hanoi. Cooped in a boat cabin for more hours than I cared for during the Halong cruise, I was itching to go photograph on dry land, and when I noticed the funeral tent, crowd and sound system half way into our journey, I just had our vehicle stop to let my friend Maika Elan and I solicit permission to photograph the rites.

Permission from the head of the family was readily granted, and I lit an incense stick to my respects to the memory of the deceased. The deceased was born in 1925, and his name was Cu Pham Van Bao.

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 many of the mourning relatives wore coarse veils of gauze.

The mourning dress is made of a very low-grade white gauze and is very loosely-fit on the person wearing it. The women mourners wear a sort of peaked gauze head dress wrapped around the head held with straw crowns. Some of the mourners use bamboo sticks for support as if they had difficulty walking.The carelessness of dress and the hesitant walk are to show how overwrought the mourners are. 

The atmosphere was very subdued. There were expressions of sorrow, but no wailing or any such outward manifestations. There were wreaths with pictures of the deceased outside the erected tent while inside in a room, was a group of women relatives praying.

The technical details are: Canon 5D Mark II + 17-40mm. 1/25th sec Hand Held. f4.0. iso 160. Pattern Metering. Date: 2012-09-23 at 14:14:00 (Hanoi time). Post Processing using Color Efex Pro.