The chair of a photography association said in an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that though Vietnam’s photographers have achieved noticeable strides in recent years, many of them still lack professionalism, passion, and dedication to make their works really stand out.
Vu Quoc Khanh, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Photographic Artists (VAPA), stressed that local photographers have received enthusiastic critical acclaim and taken home several prizes at international photography competitions in recent times. Khanh added foreign juries generally find Vietnamese photographic works’ subject matter intriguing, which lands them prizes more easily.
“Though the local photography scene had a late starting point compared to other countries, it has seen extensive, in-depth integration with its regional and global counterparts. The country has also held several international contests lately,” he noted.
He added VAPA currently has a membership of around 1,000, who boast a large number of photographic works, including many outstanding photos.
“However, those which make a long-lasting impression and become everyone’s obsession remain hard to come by. I even have a feeling that such works and artists of immense value have never been on the scene,” Khanh stressed.
However, the emerging dedication of a handful of artists to topic matters is an upbeat sign, such as Nguyen A with his works featuring Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes; and Tran The Phong with his body of work highlighting physically-challenged people.
Khanh put the scarcity of high-quality works down to several reasons.
“During wartime, Vietnam was one of the world’s ‘information hot spots,’ which fed local photographers with good input and inspired them to create ever-lasting works. However, subjects and topic matters in peacetime Vietnam are no longer hot in the world’s eyes,” he elaborated.
Some Vietnamese collections on lesbians, gay, and transsexual communities have won international prizes, but they cannot represent the country.
Khanh added many artists are too intent on creating works to compete for prizes and thus fail to delve deep into the subject matter.
“Local photographers also tend to imitate the style and topic matter of winning works. One of my works which features a mother carrying her baby on her back garnered a prize in 1991. Twenty-three years on, I can still find surprisingly similar photos, including those even having the same caption as mine,” he said.
Rampant copyright breaches
The local art scene is also plagued by rampant piracy of photographic works, which is facilitated by the boom of the Internet and digital technology.
Apart from small-scale copyright violations, Vietnamese photographers are also facing an increasing number of large-scale piracy cases.
Photographer Dang Ke Dong, vice head of the Hoi An Photography Club, and some of his colleagues set up an 'ambush' to catch large-scale copyright violators in the act in early September this year.
The raid seized 72 large photos while they were being carried into a hotel in Hoi An City in the central province of Quang Nam.
Also in September, artist Nguyen Quoc An discovered that one of his works was pirated and publicly offered for sale by a local business.
Artist Bui Vy Van even submitted his work featuring an old man “stolen” from another’s work to the ISF WORLD CUP 2014 – an international photography competition organized in October. The other artist also sent in his original work to the biennial competition.
Earlier this year, photographer Ba Han also voiced his complaints against British-Dutch company Unilever’s illegal use of one of his works in a television program.
The company then offered a feeble excuse that they were kept in the dark by their partner about the illegal downloading of the photo from the Internet, and agreed to pay a compensatory sum which was significantly smaller than that demanded by Han.
The incident quickly fell into oblivion. Most of other violations have gone unnoticed and overlooked.
A small number of artists take the trouble to seek compensation from individuals or organizations who take part in piracy, with most returning empty handed.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism said on its website it recently held a seminar to provide local artists with further training on regulations on authorship and related rights in a bid to combat the rampant copyright piracy.