Lai Xa Village - The birthplace of Vietnamese photography tradition
According to the village elderly people, Lai Xa photography craft began in the late 19th century by Nguyen Dinh Khanh, also known as Khanh Ky, a villager born in 1874. After two years learning the photography technique in Du Chuong photo shop run by a Chinese man at Hang Bo Street, in 1892, Nguyen Dinh Khanh opened the first studio named Khanh Ky on Hang Da Street. As many people know that Dang Huy Tru, the fist man brought the photography tradition in 1869 into Viet Nam. He opened his own studio named Cam Hieu Duong in Thanh Ha Street, Ha Noi. And, Nguyen Dinh Khanh, the second man was successful in developing the craft.
Nguyen Dinh Khanh was one of the four famous photographers named in the Vietnamese Encyclopedia. The three others are Dang Huy Tru, Vo An Ninh, and Dinh Dang Dinh. Khanh Ky’s greatest contribution to Vietnamese photography was to turn an imported business into a traditional craft and spread it across the country. Besides, regarded as a patriot, he participated in the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Movement, a socio-cultural and ideological reform in Viet Nam at the beginning of the 20th century. Later, he moved and operated photo shops in Toulouse (1910 – 1911) and Paris (1911 – 1912). Nguyen Dinh Khanh is honoured as the Vietnamese instigator of the craft. The 20th day of the 4th lunar month, the death anniversary of Khanh Ky, is considered as the traditional day of the Lai Xa village.
The photography trade flourished in Lai Xa village in the first half of the 20th century. The villagers opened over 200 studios in big cities and provinces throughout the country, such as: Ha Noi, Sai Gon, Hai Phong, etc. Even, some photo shops were opened in Laos, China, French and Germany, etc. In that period, Ha Noi recorded about 40 studios, in which, 33 ones were owned by the Lai Xa photography villagers with famous names of Lai Xa, My Lai, Van Hoa, Duy Tan, etc.
Owning skillful shooting techniques taught by Mr. Khanh Ky, the Lai Xa photographers can shoot dozens of film in unfavorable weather conditions but the brightness is even beautiful. With the special secret, photos made by Lai Xa photographers are rinsed in water dozens of times to clean the salt from the film so that the photos will not discolor even after hundreds of years. After that Lai Xa photographers use pen brushes to correct both the film and the photo so that they will be beautiful and durable. In 2002, the Lai Xa village established the Nguyen Dinh Khanh Photography Club including 30 members who devote to photography craft.
Lai Xa villagers have increased more efforts to develop their precious career. (Photo:Vietnamtourism.com)
Restoring and preserving the traditional craft by Mr. Khanh Ky, the Lai Xa villagers have increased more efforts to develop their precious career. Therefore, many photographers have won in photography competitions in Ha Noi and other provinces. Lai Xa village was recognized as the only photography village in 2008.
Recently, the villagers inaugurated the Lai Xa photography museum, the first museum in Viet Nam to honor the photography tradition.
Lai Xa – The fist photography museum to honor the photography
The idea of building the museum started in 2015, two years later, the Lai Xa photography museum was officially opened on May 5, 2017 in Kim Chung Commune. Previously, the village launched a movement to call for the donation of objects, documents and photos related to the village’s craft of photography for the museum’s collection. The movement has received an enthusiastic response and support from photographers and studio owners, who have already donated cameras and other photography equipments to the museum. Building in the middle of the village near Dun communal house by the villagers the first museum introduces the trade tradition of the unique photography village in Ha Noi.
With the total area of about 300 square meters in the fist phase of the construction, the museum displays about 150 photos, 25 panels and 15 glass cabinets with around 150 exhibits which are captioned in Vietnamese and English with detailed information in order to convey a certain message to visitors or tell them stories about the photos and objects. These stories are about the traditional craft of photography in Lai Xa and how Mr. Nguyen Dinh Khanh - the Vietnamese instigator of the craft and his successors were able to develop their studios across the country.
The museum introduces Lai Xa Photography Craft Village (Photo:kinhtedothi.vn)
As designed, the museum has different spaces including: reception and general introduction of Lai Xa Photography Craft Village on the first floor; a re-creation of a studio in the past, photos depicting the village’s first photographers, photography exhibitions on worship and ritual, portrait photography, portraits of popular artists, the art of lighting in photography, the Khanh Ky photo club and photo studios in the village today on the second floor. It is expected that there is also a space in the museum to worship the village’s contributors on the third floor.
The construction of the museum aims at getting an additional cultural and tourist site along with Nguyen Van Huyen Museum, Nguyen Anh Tuan Photography Gallery and old photo shops in the area. Furthermore, through the museum, the Lai Xa villagers are aware of their traditional craft and try their best to preserve the locality’s cultural values. In addition, Lai Xa Village becomes an attractive destination for tourists. Coming to Lai Xa Village, visitors have a chance to visit the museum and the house of one of the village’s elderly photographer, who will tell stories of his life as well as historical ups and downs of the art of photography and provide great insight into Viet Nam’s society and history.
The Lai Xa Photography Museum is open at weekends only from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm or by special appointment.