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In Vietnam, nude photographers strive to erase stigma

Thursday, December 14, 2017, 14:23 GMT+7
In Vietnam, nude photographers strive to erase stigma
A work by photographer Dung Art is seen in this photo.

A number of artists in Vietnam are working to ensure a clear line between artistic nudity and vulgarity.

Artistic nude photography has been present and legal in Vietnam for decades. 

However, enormous social stigma and reluctant public reception continue to engulf the genre.   

The Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism issued a regulation in March 2016 banning beauty and modeling competition title-holders from posing nude or with offensive costumes for photos and subsequently releasing them to the public.

The regulation, however, was scrapped.

The line between art and obscenity

Do Ngoc, a seasoned female photographer, shared that she first entered the world of artistic nude photography around 1995 during a trip to Bangkok. 

She was staying at a hotel with a female friend when she noticed sunlight dancing around the girl’s head as she combed her hair.

The light accentuated her slender body and white silk dress, highlighting the different colors floating through the room.

Ngoc wasted no time capturing the moment.

Her dedication and attentiveness relieved her friend’s embarrassment and resulted in the photographer’s first artistically nude photos.

Nude photographers in Vietnam are not merely women.

Thai Phien, a veteran male nude photographer and the first in the country to gain national recognition for a nude collection, can recall many of his shoots.

Seasoned nude photographer Thai Phien (right) works with a model during an outdoor shoot in his self-provided photo.
Seasoned nude photographer Thai Phien (right) works with a model during an outdoor shoot in his self-provided photo.

On one particular photo shoot, Phien noticed certain awkwardness in his new subject. 

However, once the shoot began, the subject did his job well and everything went smoothly.

A few days later, Phien and the subject were having a drink when the young man confided that he was wearing three pieces of underwear during the shoot.

“However, once work started, your high concentration and intensity gave me no time or reason to think of anything else. It then dawned on me that contemplating stripped women in photography is not what I previously thought,” the young man said. 

“Once asked if photographers are ever in love with their naked models, I would always say yes, as without love, how can we attain chemistry and create such gorgeous work?” Phien stressed. 

“However, romantic love and lust give way to true love for art. Otherwise we would not have worthy pieces,” he asserted.

Phien added that the fine distinction between art and offensiveness lies in the recognition given by the organizers of nude art competitions, pointing to his own international accolades as examples.  

“The line is quite distinct. One can easily recognize obscenity,” photographer Ngoc affirmed.

Vu Quoc Khanh, president of the Vietnam Association of Photographic Artists, put the limited popularity of artistically nude photography in the Asian country of Vietnam down to social stigmas which remain deeply ingrained in Vietnamese culture.

“Less outstanding camerawork is tolerated in other genres of photography. By contrast, artistically nude photographers’ oeuvres tend to be more critically and ethically judged,” he noted.

Removing restraints

Tao Tac, or ‘The Creator’s Work,’ the first-ever all-nude photo exhibition to be awarded a license in Vietnam, launched in September 2017 and was a resounding success for organizer Hao Nhien, another veteran nude photographer, and his colleagues.

Other well-known Vietnamese photographers, including Tran Huy Hoan, Duong Quoc Dinh, Le Quang Chau, and Thai Phien, have all failed in past efforts to gain approval for nude photo exhibitions.

Phien managed to obtain a permit to publish a nude photo book, but his multiple efforts to attain approval for an exhibition fell short.

His successful attempt was considered by his colleagues as a sign that the door for approval might be opening wider.

The milestone event has given hope to other nude photographers that more shows might be on the horizon.

The nude photographer community also predicts a boom of such showcases.

“Artistic nude photos from Phien’s exhibition are considered aperitif only, while showcases as strong as whisky are on the way,” Phien said.

He urged the Vietnam Association of Photographic Artists (VAPA) to organize more activities and seminars related to nude art.

Female nude photographer Do Ngoc. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Female nude photographer Do Ngoc. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“It would take considerable effort to persuade artists, management agencies and the entirety of society to keep from brewing a storm in a teacup,” Vu Quoc Khanh, VAPA chair, said.

The VAPA did consider organizing seminars several years ago, but such conferences never made it past any preliminary planning stage.

The association is planning to resume its consideration of the idea in the near future.

Dinh also suggested summoning professional artistic nude photographers from across the country to provide a counterbalance to those using nude images which offend the traditional custom as scandals for popularity or personal gains.

Internationally-awarded nude works by Vietnamese artists should be displayed at exhibitions open to the public in order to enlighten them on the distinction between genuine art and obscene content, he added.

Contests in the genre should also be organized, the artist urged.

Vi Kien Thanh, general director at the Authority for Arts, Photography, and Exhibition, affirmed nude collections which meet regulations under Decree 72, which stipulates the models’ identity should not be revealed or be disclosed only with their consent in writing, will be granted permits.

The authority will propose a reshuffle of staff tasked with granting permits to ensure smooth operations. 

Thanh wholeheartedly asserted support for nude photo exhibitions and reaffirmed the opinion that they follow artistic aspirations and freedom of expression.

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