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Gay love in pictures

Nguyen Thanh Hai makes use of lights, shadows and the models' facial expressions to highlight the love they feel for each other.

Publication Date : 15-11-2012


Able to live as a couple either secretly or openly, with or without support from their families, homosexual people today have the luxury of choosing how much of their private lives they make public.

And soon they will reveal more of their personal moments through a unique photo exhibition titled The Pink Choice by freelance photographer Nguyen Thanh Hai (better known by the alias Maika Elan).

The exhibition features 45 photos of homosexual couples spread throughout Vietnam.

"The idea for such a project came to me when I attended a photo festival in Cambodia in 2010, where I was assigned to make a photo essay on a certain topic," Hai told Viet Nam News. "I chose to focus on gays and lesbians and soon found that the couples I met were very open, friendly and talented. They captured my imagination.

"However, most people in Vietnam still discriminate against gays and lesbians. People even consider them to be evil. They have to hide their face, so I decided to persevere with the project in May 2011."

Hai got support from Nguyen Van Dung, a 45-year-old gay man from Ha Noi who works as a volunteer at a homosexual people's club to raise awareness of the risk of HIV in the community.

Hai and Dung spent lots of time trying to persuade gays and lesbians to grant permission to be photographed going about their daily routines.

"I spent a day with each couple on average. I focused on the living space of the couples, their intimate touches and most importantly, the harmony of the lovers rather than the individual characters," Hai said. "I hope the audience, who may not understand clearly the characters of the models in photos or their situation, can sense the love and sincere caring these couples have for each other."

As many as 72 couples agreed to be featured in the photos. The youngest are in their early 20s while the oldest are in their mid 60s.

"Each couple has their own special characteristics. Older couples have lots of living experience while young ones are adorable," Hai said.

"But I don't exploit their personal matters and the reasons they came to be with each other. I just record what I have seen in different times and spaces."

Through Hai's photos, homosexual couples share the most simple activities in daily life and intimate moments at homes, hotels or guest houses.

From bathing, eating, relaxing, modelling together in just underwear or sharing activities with other family members, Hai makes use of lights, shadows and the models' facial expressions to highlight the love they feel for each other.

Hai admitted that she was surprised by the courage of the models who dare to bare their lives to the public.

"When people are in love, they want to expose it, yet at the same time they want to keep the feelings to themselves," she said. "But in my photos, they share the most intimate moments."

"These are very vivid and touching images," said a spectator at a preview, who prefers to remain unnamed, "I examined her pictures with curiosity as I don't understand much about homosexuality. Yet now I see this is a normal social phenomenon."

Ngoc Ly, 21, one of Hai's gay models, admitted he was keen to join the project to help people better understand homosexuality.

"I know that there are people supporting and protesting homosexuality," he said. "It's their right to do that, but I believe with her works, Hai can do something to improve people's understanding of us."

Hai's assistant Dung believed the exhibition would provide the public with more positive images of gays and lesbians, which would help them live more easily in society, with less discrimination.

"People tend to think gays are fragile and weak," he said. "But through Hai's photos, gays appear strong and brave with a great desire to live better in love."

Hai herself did not hope to make any revolutionary change in people's perceptions of gays and lesbians.

"I just provide a friendly take on gay and lesbian lives," she said. "I want parents with homosexual children to be less pessimistic because they can still make good contributions to society. Let our lives be open and magical."

Hai has joined various photography workshops and festivals in Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Bangladesh. In September, her works were displayed at the World Event Young Artist Festival in Nottingham, England.

Hai's latest exhibition, which is co-organised by the Goethe Institute and the Danish Cultural Development and Exchange Fund, will be open from today until December 2 at the institute, 56-58 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. The photographer will also meet with interested audiences at 6.30pm.


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