After first visiting the capital at the height of the Vietnam War more than 50 years ago, Thomas Billhardt has kept returning to Hanoi to chronicle its changes.
However, he chose to do it not with graphic pictures of the violence, but by capturing normal, daily life that highlighted what was being destroyed.
Since October this year, the 83-year-old German photographer has been fielding numerous calls and messages from Vietnam, unable to attend an exhibition featuring 130 photos he’d taken in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
“I am sad that I cannot be in Hanoi this time because of the pandemic, but the city is always in my heart,” he told VnExpress International from Berlin, Germany.
Billhardt has won worldwide recognition for his work in the late sixties and early seventies when the Vietnam War was at its peak. His photographs of daily life amidst the war were powerfully poignant.
|Thomas Billhardt at an exhibition. Photo courtesy of Thomas Billhardt.|
Billhardt loved photography as a child, being raised by a photographer mother. He graduated from the University of Graphics and Book Design in Leipzig in 1963. When he made the first of his 12 trips to Hanoi four years later, he never imagined that it would give birth to an association lasting more than five decades.
He first came to the capital city with a group of moviemakers from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1967 to film a documentary about American soldiers captured in Hanoi amidst the infamous Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing blitz unleashed by the U.S. against the north of Vietnam.
He remembers that at the Metropole, the fanciest hotel in town, “there were more mouses than guests and worms in the hotel’s water.”
Seeing the devastation of the war, the bomb craters, destroyed buildings, and the sounds of air raids and sirens calling for people to take cover, he was moved to tell the story of Hanoi and its people with a “photo chronicle.”
“I was angry on seeing the Americans destroy Hanoi… I wanted to show the world the photos I took in Vietnam so they would know exactly what was going on. Then they would understand and love Vietnam, just like me.”
He decided that his wartime photography would focus on people going about their daily lives, busy working and getting ready to fight at the same time.
|A tram in 1975. The tram was a popular form of public transportation for Hanoians. Photo courtesy of Thomas Billhardt.|
The photographs of crowds cycling under pouring rain, the happy faces of barefoot children attending an outdoor painting class, a stadium filled with people cheering and laughing as they watched a football match and many such scenes of love and care powerfully contrasted and resisted the extreme violence of war.
“I felt a connection with Vietnamese people when looking into their eyes as they suffered from the raging war,” Billhardt recalled, adding the bravery of Vietnamese was a lesson for him.
“Thomas’s photos hold up a mirror to the world while holding out hope at the same time. They tell of the world’s social inequalities, of poverty, of suffering, of war, but also of the life and laughter of the people who live in it,” said Wilfried Eckstein, director of the Goethe Institute in Hanoi.Tiếp tục đọc “Hanoi chronicles: when peace exposes the horrors of war”