Between September 2006 and May 2008 I spent two six month periods in Vietnam, travelling around the suburbs and villages in and around the capital city of Hanoi, photographing rural life, exploring places where foreigners seldom visit.
Currently, around 75% of the population of Vietnam are farmers. As Vietnam moves towards urbanisation, the country’s agricultural labour force faces the prospect of losing its land to urban projects - and its way of life.
With Vietnam’s growing population also making less land available for farmers to work, families unable to sustain themselves are turning to the creation of various products in rural areas. These ‘craft’ villages have become the meeting place between rural and urban, agriculture and industry.
Specialising in producing a single product, some craft villages date back historically hundreds of years originally relying on locally available resources, others have recently started as a way for farmers to earn a much needed extra income. Often, it wasn’t difficult to work out the specialty of each village, the whirring of silk weaving machines in Van Phúc coming from every house as I wandered around the back streets, sheets of noodles drying in the rice fields in Tân Hòa or whole communities sitting in their doorways making various forms of the ubiquitous palm hat. Often for very little money.
The flat landscape in the Red River Delta area isn’t particularly beautiful; the villages are functional rather than attractive. The traditional village house is typically single story and consists of three rooms. The large central room is a multi purpose living and sleeping area as well as a place to work, and it is in this room where many of my images are taken, the mix of work and everyday objects fascinates me visually. Interspersed with images from daily life on the rice field and in the villages, these photographs depict ‘working from home’ in an unromanticised sense, where their subjects, mostly women, balance childcare with the routine work necessary for survival. Often they work in isolation making separate elements of a product which are then passed on to another family for completion.
During the last decade, along with rapid national economic development many craft villages have increased production up to five fold through small-scale industrial development. However, the consequence of this shift is increased waste and environmental pollution with the resources of the landscape becoming overused.
On 1st August 2008, Hanoi’s expansion into a “super city” was officially designated. The expansion makes Hanoi the 17th largest capital city in the world with 6.2 million people, double the previous population. Hà Tày no longer exists as a separate province with 2.5 million people. “This adjustment has sprung from the country’s demands for development”, Vietnam News, Saturday 2nd August 2008.
My work draws attention to observing details which we usually let slip by unnoticed and aims to contribute to the ongoing debate about the changing nature of rural life.
— Tessa Bunney
You can see earlier work by Tessa Bunney here in Lens Culture.