Sunday, 19/03/2023 07:40

Photographer inspired by celebrated songwriter

Lâm Hạnh, a reporter at Thể Thao & Văn Hóa (Sports & Culture) newspaper, interviews photographer Dương Minh Long about his exhibition on celebrated late songwriter Trịnh Công Sơn, which ended earlier this month in HCM City. Long met Sơn in the 1990s and captured him in photos over 11 years before the latter's death on April 1, 2001.

SUAVE: Photographer Dương Minh Long. Photo courtesy of VNG

Inner Sanctum: Do you have anything unexpected to say about your exhibition?

Previously, I had assumed that only Trịnh Công Sơn's generation would be interested in seeing photos of him because they adore his music. However, many young people between the ages of 18 and 25 attended and asked me numerous questions about the photographs. 

Inner Sanctum: Are you expecting feedback from a variety of sources with compliments, both positive and negative?

I am concerned, but I believe it is normal. That's how people perceive a major character, each with their own set of loves and hates. Since I handle everything myself, the budget is just adequate. But I tried to do it as nicely as I could.

Inner Sanctum: Which image and story most sticks out for you?

The stories behind each image in my nearly 30-year photographic career are all impressive and make a lasting impression, so it is tough for me to choose a favourite among them. Each photograph takes on a life of its own when it is published, much like other works of art, and the viewers are free to select the photos they find appealing.

Due to my work as a documentary photographer, I get to see and capture events. For instance, I was able to capture and transmit to the audience the ambience of a moment between two outstanding Vietnamese songwriters - Văn Cao and Trịnh Công Sơn.

Inner Sanctum: The image of musicians Văn Cao and Trịnh Công Sơn? How was that?

Everything was quite straightforward and welcoming. Both of them were delighted at that time, and Sơn generously and respectfully invited the elderly guest Văn Cao to his home. 

I think these two personalities are talented individuals who are also capable of appreciating the gifts of others, so I took about eight to ten photos of them. 

Inner Sanctum: What about the picture of Trịnh Công Sơn and world-known pianist Đặng Thái Sơn?

They were instantly invited to the piano, and I asked Thái Sơn to play a song by Công Sơn. The date was 20 November 1993.

Their tale is excellent and will be included in my upcoming book. In addition, there were meetings with Hongkongese movie star Tony Leung Chiu-wai, film director Trần Anh Hùng, movie actress Trần Nữ Yên Khê, and many other moments with this musician. 

Inner Sanctum: How could you find inspiration after spending more than ten years working tirelessly on one personality?

My inspiration first came from my love of Trịnh Công Sơn's music. When I first met him, I was attracted by his spirit and philosophy. I spent years taking pictures because of that love, so there was no reason to quit. Because I didn't want that love to suffer, I had to plan for my health, finances, transportation and other things, like time management.

INSPIRATION: Trịnh Công Sơn and his family's dog in An Phú (District 2, HCM City). Photo courtesy of Dương Minh Long

Inner Sanctum: Was it easy to capture both the whole character of Trịnh Công Sơn, or difficult because there are so many angles to him?

Characters are typically photographed from one to three angles because they just show the angles they want. But with Sơn, I want to capture every angle of him in a photograph. Sơn was a photography hobbyist and filmmaker himself, so he is also a professional "model" in some ways. He was always well-dressed, making it simple to capture him in a photo.

Inner Sanctum: It must have been difficult to choose 35 photos from your huge stockpile?

It took me a while to decide on these pictures. 90 per cent of the time, I reject images that I think people will enjoy because I like to choose photos that pamper my own ideas first.

The printing of postcards must also be considered. If Mr Sơn's portrait is on display outdoors, I will select a picture of him smiling to show his closeness and warmth.  When printed on a postcard, people often look at it alone as if they were facing Sơn, so a more thoughtful photo would be better.

Inner Sanctum: Do you regret that Trịnh Công Sơn did not see these photos himself?

I have no regrets because I believe everything has its own time to appear.

Except for the one time he asked to print a photo for singer Khánh Ly, he never expressed an interest in seeing the photos I took. I just finished shooting, took careful notes, and stored everything. 

Inner Sanctum: How did you manage to preserve such a huge number of documents, including 10,000 photos of Trịnh Công Sơn?

I can tell that I have not lost a single roll of film since I first picked up a camera when I was 13 years old. 

All preservation expenses are paid for by myself through photography for the domestic press, foreign news agencies, and advertising. I also take photography classes to fuel the passion for the camera. VNS

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