GIVING BACK PROJECT
Karma – The sum of a person’s actions in this and in previous states of existence decides their fate in future existences.
In other words: “What goes around comes around” –
Going full circle
This word and its meaning have carried special weight for Réhahn throughout his journey as a photographer.
What starts as a smile and a click of a camera often leads to the communication of souls.
THE BIRTH OF THE
“GIVING BACK PROJECT”
Many photographers have a sense of responsibility running through their photographic work, whether it’s photojournalists like Ami Vitale and Cesar Dezfuli, whose commitment to their subjects goes far beyond sharing their photographic stories, or photographic artists like Réhahn or Kenro Izu, who use their photography to give something back to the people and places that make their work possible.
– BBC, 2018
A LITTLE VIETNAMESE GIRL
WITH STARTLING BLUE EYES…
An Phước was seven years old when Réhahn took her portrait in 2015. She is the youngest in her family and lives with her brother, sister and parents near Phan Rang. Her parents make a modest living from a small carpentry and pottery business and had never left their village. They are descendants of the Cham minority group.
The Cham people have Malayo-Polynesian and Hindu origins, with strong Buddhist and Hindu influence. There are close to 130,000 Cham now residing in the south of Vietnam. A few thousand Cham have settled in the desert region of Ninh Thuan, north of Nha Trang. Only some people still wear their traditional costumes because the time-consuming crafting methods have fallen out of favor for more easily accessible clothing. However, the Cham dialect, which is fundamentally different from other Vietnamese languages, is still widely spoken.
An Phước is notably different from other little Cham girls in her village due to her unusual piercing blue eyes. They look like two azure marbles, which is in contrast with her dark skin and hair. She’s always surprised when the few foreigners that pass through her village comment on her eyes.
The Opening Of The Circle
Réhahn first became aware of this little girl when one of his more than 230,000 Facebook followers contacted him to tell him about her. He always wanted to learn more about the Cham minority group so he jumped at the opportunity to go. He took a flight to Nha Trang and made his way to Phan Rang with the intention of documenting the Cham and finding An Phuoc, who’s known as the ‘little girl with cat eyes’ in her community.
Upon arrival, Réhahn was taken to the family’s modest home where he was warmly welcomed. An Phuoc’s paternal great-grandfather was French and his unique eyes run in the family. Her father has two blue eyes and her sister, Sapa, has one blue and one hazel.
Réhahn was invited to have dinner with the family. A warm connection was made and he eventually ended up spending two days as a guest in their home. They spent those two days laughing, sharing stories and taking photos. They became instant friends.
The Closing Of The Circle
Réhahn had a feeling that this little girl’s photo would garner a lot of attention so he wanted to do something important for the whole family. He bought everyone much needed new clothes and for An Phuoc’s older sister, Sapa, he also purchased a bicycle so that she could cycle to her school, which is several kilometers away.
Réhahn’s final gift for the family was a cow that they affectionately named Bò Lai, which roughly translates into ‘Cow from Foreigner’.
It’s hard to explain the connection that was made between Réhahn and this family but they definitely touched each other’s hearts. Réhahn promised to invite them to his hometown of Hoi An, in central Vietnam. For a family that had never left their village, this news obviously generated much excitement and joy. For them, the idea of flying on a plane for the first time was completely surreal.
The family flew to Hoi An where they stayed for four days as Réhahn’s guests in his home. They also had a chance to see Réhahn’s fine art gallery Couleurs by Réhahn in the city center. With Réhahn’s support, the two sisters are now learning to speak English, which is vital because it creates more opportunities for the children and family in the future. Read the entire article about An Phuoc in Réhahn’s second book, “Vietnam Mosaic of Contrast Vol II”.
THE STORY OF KIM LUAN
The Opening Of The Circle
This iconic photo symbolizes the respect between the M’nong tribe and elephants. What makes this picture special is the contrasting opposites of a small girl in front of such a huge creature. Réhahn was unable to get close to the wild elephant, yet the little girl was able to approach it with no fear from girl or beast. This photo is part of Réhahn’s fine art photography collection and was made to show the respect humans should have toward elephants and animals in general.
The M’nong people no longer produce their traditional costumes and few villagers still wear them. However, they have not lost their elephant training skills for which they are well known. Tracking and domesticating elephants is a very tricky and dangerous job. The hunters not only require special skills to overcome the challenges of capturing them, but they also need to overcome the adversity that a wild jungle presents. This photograph will soon be representing the past rather than the present because sadly, there are only 50 of these elephants left in the whole country.
Taken in 2014, this shot has been published in more than 40 countries and several world-famous magazines such as Times magazine and National Geographic. This photo is Réhahn’s most famous photo in his collection.
The Closing Of The Circle
In June 2016, Réhahn returned to give back to the family. He offered to help them renovate their house but they declined. Instead, they asked him to buy them a cow. It’s easy to feed and can later be resold for two.
Réhahn bought two cows, one mother and one baby female calf. This way, they can reproduce more cows, which will eventually become a great investment for the family. The whole village came to watch the cows being delivered and to congratulate the family and welcome Réhahn.
The event soon turned into a full-blown village party! As a parting gift, Réhahn was given a traditional, vintage costume to add to his Precious Heritage Collection.
ONE PHOTOGRAPH TO BUILD A BETTER LIFE
In 2019, Réhahn will launch two of his biggest giving back projects to date. The first comes from an idea that began more than 11 years ago when Réhahn visited Vietnam with a French NGO called Enfants du Vietnam (EDV). Réhahn’s mission then was to provide schooling for a young girl and his ensuing interest in helping her continue her education was one of the catalysts for his relocation to Vietnam.
Over the last 11 years, Réhahn has gone from being a traveller interested in culture and photography to becoming one of the most recognized travel portrait photographers in the world, yet his core purpose remains the same: to help those in need and to maintain his own integrity.
100% of proceeds earned from photographs featuring children, including the famous Girl with the Blue Eyes and Best Friends will now be shared in full between the families of the subjects and worthy projects geared to help young people have a better quality of life and a brighter future.
This process means that both first-time buyers and collectors of Réhahn’s work will also be a part of the giving back circle. The money that they invest in the artwork will go directly to those who need it most.
Each year, Réhahn aims to participate in a minimum of 2 projects in partnership with EDV, his trusted organization. The first will be a “foyer” for Hmong youth in Mu Cang Chai. The children’s homes are far from their school so this foyer will act as a home-away-from-home during the week so that the children can pursue their studies without the necessity (and sometimes impossibility) of traveling the long distances home each day. Future projects will relate to the construction of schools and orphanages.
MUSEUMS THAT GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
The Precious Heritage Museum is well-known in Vietnam because of the beauty of Réhahn’s portrait photography as well as the fact that it contains the most extensive collection of information, tribal costumes and images of Vietnam’s diverse ethnic groups in the world. This museum is an ongoing gift because it will become an important record of the tribal groups’ past, present and future.
The museum is completely free to the public in an eort to disperse the knowledge and beauty of the ethnic tribes to the world.
It has taken Réhahn more than 8 years to collect the costumes, photos, music and information of 51 of the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam as well as 4 years to save enough money to fund the project, buy, renovate and decorate the ancient French-style house in central Hoi An.
CO TU COMMUNITY HOUSE
In addition, Réhahn will open the Co Tu museum in 2019. Though the public is also welcome to visit this free museum, it is truly a gift to the Co Tu people. The museum, located in Tay Giang district along the Mekong river, has been built as a traditional Guol, or Co Tu community center. Here the group will be able to preserve valuable artifacts and objects important for the preservation of their heritage. The center will also serve as a gathering point for Co Tu festivals. Information will be available in Vietnamese, English and French as well as the Co Tu native tongue.
The Co Tu Museum will be the first museum in the Vietnam that is 100% dedicated to one single tribe.
The concept for this museum actually came from Mr. Doi, the Chief of a Co Tu village, who expressed to Réhahn his fears about their tribal culture not being passed on to the next generation.
“When we pass away, who will tell the young people about our ancient traditions?” Mr. Doi asked.
Réhahn was able to fund the museum in full thanks to the sales of his fine art photography and books. As the culture changes it is important to find a way to preserve it despite the challenges.
Réhahn believes photos are like time capsules. Each one is a single moment that can tell part of a story and seal it in time. However, there is life to be experienced beyond the photo and Réhahn’s giving back project helps him to maintain and honor the relationships he’s made with his subjects as well as directly improving their quality of life.
Though he is not an ethnologist, Réhahn finds great satisfaction in helping to preserve a part of the history of vibrant Vietnam.
The personal joy he receives in ‘giving back’ has made his work deeper and his life fuller. Réhahn has made it his mission to be part of the first wave of the ‘giving back’ movement. His hope is to inspire other photographers to do the same.
Read the BBC article about the project