Photographer Nicolas Cornet: I wish viewers know more about Vietnamese culture

As a person who has a natural association with Vietnam, French photographer Nicolas Cornet has introduced several works in his photo book on Vietnamese pagodas.
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He said that he can talk about Vietnam’s unique cultural identities for hours and always set tasks of promoting the cultural identities to not only foreigners but even Vietnamese people.

Bridge connecting the two countries’ culture

Q: You have had a strong attachment for over 30 years. Could you tell us about your natural attachment?

A: My wife is Vietnamese, but was born and grew up in France, therefore, her knowledge of Vietnam is not very great. I wished to learn about Vietnam to tell my children. In 1987, one of my friends, who was an expert of black-and-white photos, wanted to travel to Vietnam to make a photo book and he asked me to go with him. In order to implement the project, we had to return to Vietnam many times. In addition, I worked for several French and German newspapers, so I also had more opportunities to return to the country.

Currently, I work in Vietnam around 3-4 months every year. Almost half of my friends are in Vietnam. I have also had many jobs in other countries in Southeast Asia, so I have always visited Vietnam whenever I return this region.

Q: Was your first photo book on Vietnam your own idea?

A: It was my own idea. I proposed my intention to a French publishing house. At that time, Vietnam was not popular so the publisher also wanted to introduce your country’s image to the world. The book was translated from French into English and 30,000 copies were sold in many countries around the world. I wished to introduce people all over the world to Vietnam, contributing to the development of Vietnamese tourism and attracting more foreign visitors to the country. I want to help them learn more about the land and people of Vietnam through culture. Therefore, in my photo book, I captured not only the landscapes but also the daily life of Vietnamese people to highlight the special cultural identities. In each page, I wrote some notes introducing a certain aspect in their cultural and spiritual lives.

Q: Your first photo book was like a traveller’s series of photos, the second one talked about stories in daily life, and the latest is considered as an in-depth study of pogodas in Vietnam. Could you share about them?

A: It was really an in-depth study of culture, worship and the beliefs of Vietnamese people. In the book, I listed the most beautiful pagodas in Vietnam to help younger generations to get to know and imagine them.

I did not like taking beautiful photos to make postcards, but I wanted to leave my own stamp on my photos. Therefore, at first glance, viewers could think that they are travel photos. However, if they spend more time surveying the photos, they will be able to feel the hidden things that I want to convey: the poetry, nostalgia and cultural characteristics.

Q: You have travelled to many lands and met many people in Vietnam. Why did you choose ‘Pagodas’ as the theme of your fifth book?

A: I officially embarked on this project four years ago, however, previously I had developed an interest in Vietnamese temples and pagodas. Temples are popular only in the north, while pagodas appear in all three regions of the country. Therefore, with the theme of pagodas, the photos reflect the cohesion in both geography and culture among localities.

My book will be translated into Vietnamese next year, helping the northern people to discover cultural heritages in central and southern regions and vice versa. I think that I am not only a bridge connecting western people with Vietnamese culture but also contribute to conveying messages of culture among Vietnamese people.

For me, pagodas are the most beautiful, quiet and peaceful places in the present busy lifestyle. They are also considered as a symbol of Vietnamese culture, therefore, I want to raise public awareness of preserving this cultural heritage.

photographer nicolas cornet i wish viewers know more about vietnamese culture
Photographer Nicolas Cornet.

Strong attachment to Vietnam

Q: You have visited many Southeast Asian countries. In your opinion, what’s the difference between the Vietnamese culture and other countries?

A: I am so attached to Vietnam, so I can spend hours talking about the unique cultural identities of your country. For example, Vietnam’s pagodas are places to worship not only Buddha but also gods, ancestors and national heroes, which show that the country is capable of receiving cultural values from other nations. Vietnamese people do not hesitate to get in touch with foreigners to learn about their culture but preserve their own cultural identities.

Q: How did you conduct professional exchanges with Vietnamese photographers?

A: I have held many workshops and exchanges with Vietnamese photographers, including the project ‘I love my city’, attracting numerous Vietnamese friends. Initially, a number of their works were under my style’s influence, but then, they found their own hallmark.

Q: Do you have any plan for more projects after the photo book on Vietnam’s pagodas?

A: I have many plans. The first will be a photo book on Vietnamese food. I also intend to organise a workshop similar to the project ‘I love my city’, but not only in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City but also in other provinces and cities. In addition, I expect to hold a photo festival in Ho Chi Minh.

Thank you very much!

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(Source: NDO)