Every photographer understands the difficulty of editing. It is an arduous task that doesn’t just involve post-production and work in Lightroom, Bridge or Photoshop. It’s the problem of whittling down a large amount of photos to a small selection, to a usable, perfectly chosen amount.
In Réhahn’s case, the task was oppressive. After just over a year in Vietnam he had 30,000 images taken from around the country. When he decided he was going to put together his book, Vietnam: A Mosaic of Contrasts, he had to edit down to 145 photos.
“It was so hard,” he says. “My first selection took two months. I was then sure it was all good, until I noticed I had 300 photos and I had to remove half of them!”
Like so many others who have left their countries for foreign climes, Normandy-born and raised Réhahn arrived in Vietnam seeking new opportunities. Having travelled to over 30 countries, the more he went abroad, the less the communication agency and printing house owner “wanted to come back to France”.
So, in 2012 the 32-year-old upped roots and seized the opportunity. He moved to Hoi An and set up a restaurant, ENJOY, which also contains a small book shop and a photo gallery.
Leaving a nine-to-five job provided him with another opportunity — the chance to travel and follow his passion and obsession, photography. The resulting coffee table-style work shows a Vietnam of the past, an impression of a country that will soon disappear.
What is meant by the book’s title, Mosaic?
Vietnam is a mosaic of colours, contrasts, light and ethnicities. Hundreds of different faces, completely different, that make up one single country. It’s the same with the landscape. The colours of Bai Sao Beach in Phu Quoc, terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai or Sapa, the red sand dunes of Mui Ne, the yellow walls of the old city of Hoi An, or even the salt fields next to Nha Trang. All this shapes one country.
A lot of your work is portrait-based. What fascinates you so much about people’s faces? Does a good portrait need to be set up or should it be natural?
I think the best way to take a good portrait is to take your time. A good portrait will not come out in five minutes. Sometimes I spend an hour with my subject.
I am a very sociable person. I love to discover, understand, learn and explore the people that I work with. As a result, every single moment that I capture is natural and comes during my interaction with them. To me, a good portrait is composed of two people: the model and the photographer. It’s the communication and interaction between the two that produce a natural effect.
How do you get to know your subjects? Do you speak Vietnamese or do you have an interpreter?
I am learning Vietnamese and sometimes I travel with a Vietnamese friend. But as I have encountered a variety of Vietnamese people, I have learnt to speak the language in the context of getting to know them. It is important to take the time. Also, hearing a foreigner speaking their language makes them laugh, which opens many doors.
The lifestyle images in your book seem to focus on rural Vietnam. Why did you focus on the countryside and ethnic minorities rather than the life of the big cities?
I am not so fascinated by the big cities, which I think are starting to resemble cities in developed countries. In addition, people do not have much time to stop and chat, and when they do, they ask for money. In the mountains is where we find Vietnam in its truthful, traditional form — colourful costumes, people who live life slowly and gently. They have more time to interact with you. I also love the different ethnic faces: their skin colour, eyes, beards. I love to ride on my motorbike in far off regions, where not many people go.
Is the purpose of your book to show Vietnam as it is today or the Vietnam that is gradually being lost?
I think that unfortunately for photographers and tourists, the ethnic minorities are blending into mainstream life. Many have already given up their costumes and traded them in for jeans and T-shirts. It is inevitable. In the future, no one will wear these costumes — yet they are so colourful and beautiful.
How did you get started in photography?
I started getting into photography three years ago, but I started in depth when I moved to Hoi An. It was a question of time, which I did not have. When you take pictures during five weeks of holidays (in France, that’s the average), you do not have time to improve. However, here I can take photos every month, sometimes every week.
What advice would you give to anyone else starting out in photography?
It all depends on what the person wants to do. My biggest rule to follow is: Practise! Reading books about technique or chatting on different forums does not have much effect. However, taking out your camera and shooting, that’s when you can make the difference.