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Into the Highlands

An ongoing photographic exhibition at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi documents Vietnam’s ethnic minorities as they looked and lived 60 years ago

 

When Jean-Marie Duchange was posted to Vietnam, he brought with him the full range of photographic equipment from France together with two cameras — a Rolleiflex and a Semflex. It was the early 1950s and he saw an opportunity, an opportunity that at the time few others could grasp.

 

 

Working for the Department of Public Health for Montagnards in Southern Indochina, his three years in what is now Central Vietnam took him to five regions and put him in contact with a number of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. Although he was “neither an anthropologist nor a photographer”, he decided “to get involved”. Thanks to his “development tanks and an enlarger from France and — the most important thing — a 6x6 [medium format, 56mm x 56mm] twin-lens reflex camera” he documented what he saw and the people he worked with.

 

 

Born in Saint-Nazaire in France, Duchange passed away in 2007. However, thanks to his daughter and granddaughter, his legacy lives on. In 2013, 200 negatives were donated to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology as part of the celebrations of 40 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and France. These photos document the customs, clothing, hairstyles, musical instruments, rites and ceremonies of the ‘montagnards’ — the French term for the indigenous peoples of Vietnam. Where so much information has been lost, they act as a vital historical record on the lives of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.

 

Special thanks to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology for allowing us to reproduce these images

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