It’s the basic commandment of photography: “Smile for the camera.” But for photographers Réhahn Croquevielle and An Soi, this simple interaction is more than tooth-deep. Words by Ed Weinberg
Just off the bat, the smile techniques to be described won’t apply to everyone. If you’re getting too many frowns in your snaps, I’ve heard tickling works. If you’re a little bit camera-shy, try saying a word that ends with an ‘uh’ sound, like ‘yoga’ — it will raise the corners of your mouth naturally.
Now that that’s settled, we’re going to discuss some pro techniques. Hoi An-based photographer Réhahn Croquevielle has a unique technique — get these erstwhile models to cover their mouths.
These photos fall under the category of happy accident. Réhahn says, “First I’ve seen in some photos that they used to — especially women — they used to cover their mouths. I think it’s because it’s elegant, it’s polite, maybe it was the way to smile before. To not smile big.
“So I’ve noticed that. From an artistic point of view, it’s nice. You can see the old hands, the wrinkles... and you can see the smile in the eyes finally, [because] you don’t see the mouth.”
In the future, Réhahn is planning on an exhibition of these photos — under the title of Hidden Smile. “It’s funny because it became like a signature... of course there are some photographers who have similar pictures, in Indonesia or in another country or even in Vietnam. And some friends [will see the picture] and they’ll say, ‘This is Réhahn’s picture!’”
“Khong Co Rang?”
Réhahn has lived in Vietnam for three years, even opening his own restaurant (Enjoy Restaurant at 13 Nguyen Phuc Chu, Hoi An, with 57 flavours of ice cream!). During that time, he says, he’s probably put on some weight, and his Vietnamese friends aren’t shy about letting him know. “They say, ‘Oh Réhahn, you’re fat now!’”
He doesn’t take it personally. “Vietnamese they are like that, and so I try to do the same. So when I see the old lady, with no teeth, I say, ‘Khong co rang?’ — ‘You don’t have teeth?’”
This is what he said to the old H’mong woman in rural Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai Province, who raised her dyed-purple hands to her mouth to make for one of Réhahn’s most famous photographs.
“It was lucky, before, that I didn’t see the purple on the hand, the dye. And I shot it like that, smiling. I saw that that’s the perfect photo, no need to take more photos. This is what I want.”
The Monkey King
You might have seen An Soi’s niche-viral YouTube video Thanh chup anh - Funiest Vietnamese Photographer - Moonwalk, where he does what it says on the tin. With the lush green of Son La Province’s mountains behind them, a newly-married couple tries to keep it fresh on hour two or three of their wedding shoot, while An gives them some amusement.
In part two of the series, Acrobatic, he rolls on the ground, at times acrobatically, at other times just kicking his leg in the air.
About the YouTube videos, An says, “It was a boring shoot. We went to a place far away, about a few hundred kilometres. After the long trip, everyone got tired and bored in the afternoon. The couple didn’t know how to pose, their faces were just frozen. I didn’t know what to do to make them smile, so I just followed my feelings.”
In part three of the series, Monkey King, he stands on one leg, wobbling weirdly and kicking his raised leg in a controlled, martial arts style. Back in university, he was in some dancing clubs and workout classes, but now “sometimes I don’t even know what I’m doing”.
The Voyeur’s Dilemma
It’s always hard to get people to smile for pictures. “People are not used to being photographed,” An says. “They feel weird when people are just staring at them, they just cannot naturally smile. Even me. I’m a photographer, but I cannot smile and know how to pose when being photographed, so I understand how my clients feel.”
But wedding photos are a special case. There are few other times when non-professionals are asked to model for hours on end.
And An puts more into the dilemma than just asking people to ‘say cheese’. “I know it’s better to get myself, [the shoot] and the outfits prepared well in advance. So that I can have the best confidence and feel more comfortable to have the best smiles during the shoot. Every day I practise posing and smiling in front of the mirror to face my fear, so that I can overcome the fear [of others]. I think it’s the best way.”
Réhahn Croquevielle’s work can be found online at rehahnphotographer.com. Ho Chi Minh City’s VinGallery (6 Le Van Mien, Q2) will host an exhibition of his work featuring Vietnam’s ethnic minorities on Mar. 2, called Precious Heritage. The centrepiece of the exhibit will be a 150cm x 120cm photograph on Kodak Endura paper. A unique metallic gloss makes it appear like it’s almost 3D
An Soi’s fan page can be found at facebook.com/pages/Nguyen-Dinh-An/1492021581020066