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Frenchman shuttles between homeland and Vietnam for decades out of photography passion

Frenchman shuttles between homeland and Vietnam for decades out of photography passion

Friday, January 30, 2015, 09:50 GMT+7

A French photojournalist/photographer has lived in both his home country and Vietnam for nearly three decades, taken hundreds of photos, and helped develop the Southeast Asian country’s photography.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Nicolas Cornet has worked for several European newspapers, including “Le Monde,” and shuttled between France and Vietnam for the past 28 years.

During this time he has taken hundreds of photos of the latter country’s landscapes and people.

Cornet has published many of the photos in his three picture books depicting the country and organized photo exhibitions and competitions in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Married to a Vietnamese woman, the Frenchman’s business card shows residence addresses in both Hanoi and Paris.


Cornet first arrived in Vietnam in 1987 to help with a friend’s photo project.

“Back then, the streets in Hanoi were almost empty of cars, and only the sounds of bicycles and youngsters’ chatter were heard as one sat by Guom (Sword) Lake. Despite the astonishing changes, Hanoi’s landscapes are well preserved and I find it one of Asia’s most unique cities,” he told The Thao va Van Hoa (Sports and Culture) newspaper. 

He is particularly intrigued by the unique blend of Asian and European architecture in several of the capital’s quarters, its Old Quarter and alleys.

Cornet, who speaks fluent Vietnamese, revealed his favorite pastime is taking leisurely strolls around Guom Lake, which also provides him with boundless inspiration for his artwork.

“My wife is Vietnamese and so are half of my friends. I’m also keen to learn Vietnamese language and culture,” he said.

The veteran photographer has traveled to different places across Vietnam over the past 28 years and cannot remember exactly how many collections of photos he has taken.

His two prime interests are heritage and environmental issues. He has taken a slew of photos on temples, shrines, landscapes, and wildlife.

Cornet has organized several exhibitions in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, including the “Vietnam, Cuoc Song Troi Day” (roughly translated as “Vietnam, Bursting with Life”) exhibit in the southern city in 2008.

He has also authored three photo books, including “Vietnam: A Sense of Place,” which has sold over 30,000 copies to date.

The photographer wishes to pass on his passion and skills to young Vietnamese.

“There are few photo projects in Vietnam which local youth can join and express themselves,” he explained. In December 2013, Cornet and his partners jointly held an exhibition which featured artworks submitted to his “I Love My City” photo competition.

The competition was organized by Galaxy Publication in collaboration with the French Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, the French Embassy in Hanoi, and the French Institute in the capital within the framework of the Year of France in Vietnam that year.

It provided contestants with opportunities to exchange photography experiences and skills, share their photos, and win prizes.

The contest also acquainted contestants with and encouraged them to create a Photo Essay, or a series of photos recounting a meaningful story, which was still not popular in Vietnam then, according to the organizers.

Cornet took his exhibition to Hanoi in November last year after successfully holding it in Toulouse, France in September.

The seasoned photographer is active in photography and journalistic photography courses which he or his Vietnamese colleagues run.

“A new batch of young Vietnamese photographers is being incubated. The government should create the best conditions and offer maximal assistance to them, instead of focusing only on their established predecessors,” he told VnExpress, a local newswire.

He sat on the jury of a photo competition for fledgling photographers held by the newswire last year.

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