Featured at the Hanoi Photo Exhibition – a city in photography (from April 21 to June 3, 2023 at the 22 Hang Buom Cultural Center) are two super large black and white photos, hung in the most conspicuous position of photography. American photographer Peter Steinhauer. One is a portrait of musician Van Cao, the other is of an iron worker at a small shop on De La Thanh Street. Two characters, one famous, one ordinary, are described by the cameraman with the most affectionate look possible, through the rough and poetic frame and water. “Van Cao, I remember him being very gentle and very quiet. Me and my family were also invited by musician Van Cao to his house to celebrate Tet. It was the 1995 Lunar New Year, just 6 months before he was born. And that was also the last time I met the author of the National Anthem of Vietnam…”, Peter recalls.
“I’m in Vietnam” – Peter talks about the love he’s been pursuing for the past 30 years, in the implication, he loves everything he has heard and seen in Vietnam and always wants to get the most out of his lens: Mekong Delta; ethnic minority; canals of Ho Chi Minh City; street corners, rooftops and houses in Hanoi… And most of all, images that will eventually fade into the past. Even those are the “tiger cages” crammed in the old dormitories of Hanoi, or the noises and even quarrels in the markets (besides taking pictures, Peter also records them to save his memories. true sound of life). “Like it or not, it is also a part of the “soul” of Hanoi, and over time, the old dormitory buildings will gradually disappear, the traditional markets will be replaced by supermarkets. …, and my “mission” is to use my lens to promptly save those traces before it disappears”.
Photography with Peter is not only the story of the moment, it is also a process, marking changes. Returning to Vietnam with this American photographer is also a journey back to the places where he used to point the lens, to see if the scene is still there, like in old photos, or has changed in time. “In Hanoi, there is a point of view that I often return to to see if the old landscape has changed. It is the view from Chuong Duong bridge, towards the old streets. At the same point of view, I took a series of 3 photos one by one, in the years 1994 – 2004 – 2022, and when we compare them, we will clearly see the change of the streets of Hanoi … “, Peter said.
To get the photos of a lifetime about Vietnam (many of which have won many international awards, present in collections; selected for exhibitions in Hanoi and Washington DC on the 10th anniversary of normalization. Vietnam – US relations; his photography book “Enduring Spirit of Vietnam” was awarded the Best Photography Book by PDN – a prestigious American photographic association in 2007… ), Peter has several times… smoked to death on the way to work. In which, the most memorable accident was in 1997, right in front of Cho Lon gate (HCMC). The accident caused him to break 14 ribs, 2 forearm bones and puncture a hole in his lung, requiring a transfusion of 3.5 liters of blood. “There is clearly Vietnamese blood in my veins”, adding another “proof” for the “truth” that Peter is very fond of: In his previous life, he must have been… Vietnamese.
One of Peter’s favorite birthday gifts is a film that recreates the old man’s journey when he was in Vietnam, a field hospital in Da Nang, from 1966 – 1968. My father is a dental specialist, he was sent to Vietnam with the task of treating American soldiers and wounded prisoners. He is a person who hates war and loves peace.He also used to love taking pictures of the country and people of Vietnam: village landscapes, children, the elderly…
Peter said that he is grateful to his father because he brought Vietnam back to his childhood. From a young age, he was known to Vietnam through his father’s stories and photos. “Six years before the normalization of Vietnam-US relations, my father was one of the first American veterans to come to Vietnam, as a delegation of the United Nations, and then as an NGO.” Bridge of Friendship” co-founded by him, in order to support medical equipment for hospitals in Vietnam, as well as bring Vietnamese doctors to the US to practice… During 25 years of maintaining that organization, He has returned to Vietnam more than 30 times, many times with his children…”.
Learned from his father, later married to a Vietnamese origin, Peter was one of the first Americans to set foot in Vietnam, before the normalization of Vietnam-US relations. “There were very few foreigners in Hanoi at that time. It was difficult to find an English-speaking person on the street. The presence of a “blue eyes” guy with a camera in his hand was therefore always intrigued…”, Peter recalls.
Old dormitory in Hanoi – one of Peter’s favorite topics.
Initially, Peter mainly photographed portraits and landscapes, but later he became fascinated with the subject of urban life. “Before that, I always photographed Vietnamese people outside the natural setting. Until I suddenly arose a curiosity: So how are Vietnamese people living, in their own homes, the living environment they belong to? It’s a journey from outside to inside, from far to near, to better understand the Vietnamese people…”.
Been in Hanoi for 4 years (1993-1997), Ho Chi Minh City 8 years (1998 – 2006) and continuously returning to Vietnam for the past 30 years, Peter has taken thousands of photos on exciting and passionate journeys throughout Vietnam: Old dormitories in Hanoi, the “small alleys, small streets” of Hanoi’s old town; market streets and craft villages of Kinh Bac; noisy markets from North to South; the silence of Rocks and Water in Ha Long Bay; a loose suspension bridge throws itself across the river, in the silhouette of a mother carrying her child in Son La; contemplative expression on the face of the author “Tien Quan Ca”; ageless innocent smile behind the sweaty sleeve of a worker…; The latest is the project of photographing ancient churches in Ninh Binh, Nam Dinh …
In it, there was a picture Peter called “the picture of fate”. It is a picture of a mother carrying her child on a suspension bridge. “At that time, completely by chance, on the forest road, we saw the suspension bridge suddenly appear in the mist, too beautiful in shape and decided to stop. Finished taking the first picture – no people , then came the second picture, suddenly appeared at the bridgehead the image of a mother carrying a child. My destiny was born from that. When I happened to see that photo in a photo exhibition in Washington DC, the person The Vietnamese woman who will be my wife 7 years later was deeply moved.The image of a mother carrying her baby across the river on a precarious bridge reminded her of the Vietnamese mother who had taken care of 12 children alone. child in America, when her husband died early. Then, she wrote a letter to get acquainted with the author to express her gratitude …”, Peter recalls. “Dad brought Vietnam to me, and I brought Vietnam back to her,” the American photographer said of the “gift” he gave his wife, Erin Phuong. Leaving Vietnam at the age of 9, this Vietnamese woman many years later came to Vietnam regularly as an executive director of an American commercial corporation that needed to expand the market in Vietnam.. But must It wasn’t until seeing Peter’s photo that new memories were awakened and her love for Vietnam really rose.
Because of that love, after 20 years of cherishing, they founded the Vietnam Society – an independent and non-governmental organization to promote Vietnamese culture and contemporary art, with the Vietnam Week event taking place. Annually in Washington DC since 2022, with movie screenings, fashion shows, food, music performances and literary talks, etc., under the auspices of America’s leading prestigious museum Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center and other major institutions. They see it as a “window” for expatriates, especially young Vietnamese people, to look back at their roots in a beautiful sense of a contemporary Vietnam.
The winding river is the name of the exhibition that hangs the “fated photo” that will charm the two. But deep in his heart, Peter believes, there is a straight path that has brought them together: It is the land where they have come and gone.