From dusk to dawn

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French photographer Sébastien Laval stands next to one of his photos depicting Hanoi's night life at an ongoing exhibition in the city. The photo shows a railway running between rows of houses, which he calls an interface of life that can hardly be seen in France or elsewhere.

Sébastien Laval, whose works manage to focus on a slower pace of life in Vietnam amidst frenetic developments, has captured Hanoi in a similar light.

His fourth exhibition in the country shows the capital city's night life in a different light, or, more accurately, different lights.

"Hanoi 18H/6H" (Hanoi 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.), shows a city where the colors of everything change, Laval told local media.

Vietnamese photographers at the exhibition said Laval has done a better job than them in capturing Hanoi, by "being truthful to the real lights."

The photos show the city reflected in the yellow and red street lights, which Laval calls "poetic light."

Laval said Hanoi is different from many cities in France, where night lights "do not have colors," making them kind of boring, while the lights in Hanoi paint all walls with a yellowish orange.

Several local audiences to the exhibition have made negative comments, saying they expected more spectacular and innovative views of the city.

That is exactly what Laval does not want to do. The point of the show, he said, is to show parts of life that have been somehow taken for granted.

His photos also show the less luxurious corners of Hanoi's Old Quarter.

Hanoi residents leave their work places at 6 p.m. and either go home or to restaurants for dinner, and life somehow ceases until they begin flocking the roads from 6 a.m. the next morning, Laval said.

Most of the photos do not depict people, while others have them in very silent moments like holding hands on the Long Bien bridges, cleaning up their empty booths for the day, or reflected on tainted walls and broken windows.

"I want to record the city life during the 12 hours covered in darkness. And a more special thing, Hanoi by night is unusually beautiful," he told Tuoi Tre.

He said the railway track running through Hanoi is a major interest, though some viewers said they found the same setting in many photos of a railway track between two rows of houses mundane.

In his native country, France, houses are not built so near the tracks and such an interface of life is difficult to find elsewhere, he said.

His photographs also show steep and narrow stairs to old apartments and rooms where people hang their clothes, baskets, pans and brooms on the same wall.

Hanoi is chaotic, Laval said, adding that the chaos might add to its unique beauty.

Laval said he wants his exhibition, with all the sparkle and shadows and messiness, to show another side of the capital city that is not something hard to spot, but one that is familiar to those having lived in the city for sometime.

It is all about feeling life "outside the edge of time," he said.

Laval started taking photos of Hanoi at night in 2007 during regular trips to the city.

His collection is on display at the French cultural center L'Espace at 24 Trang Tien Street until January 6. Entrance is free.

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