Suoi (Stream) by Le Quang Chau
In another arbitrary decision by cultural authorities, Le Quang Chau has become the latest photographer to be denied a license to publicly exhibit nude photographs.
On May 2, Chau, who won national awards for nude photography in 2004, submitted 28 photos of nude models with their faces covered, to the Department of Fine Arts and Photography to seek permission for an exhibition.
And just like other famous nude photographers such as Thai Phien, he too was denied permission.
According to regulations to be passed this year, nude photographs can be exhibited on two conditions: the subjects' faces have to be concealed and a contract with the models must be furnished.
Ironically, Phien got a license in 2007, when regulations about exhibiting nude photos had been vague. But eventually the exhibition was not allowed to be held.
However, he had been allowed to publish a book of exclusively nude photos.
In another instance of official capriciousness, the same year, 2004, Chau was denied permission to publish a photo book to commemorate a decade of working in the field because 10 of the pictures were nudes.
"The photos, two of which won prizes from the Vietnam Association of Photographic Artists, are wholesome, but I was advised it is not the right time [to publish the photos]," he had said then.
Asked about the exhibition, Vu Khanh, president of the association, refused to assess the artistic value of Chau's photos that won the prizes or say if the photos flouted Vietnamese cultural norms.
Phien and others photographers who found themselves at the receiving end of official whimsy said they were told merely "It's not the right time" to present their works to public.
"I don't know how to define the phrase "˜right time,'" Phien says.
"Someone even told me that a nude photo exhibition should not be held because a bridge collapsed recently." The tragedy the official had referred to was the Can Tho Bridge collapse in September 2007 which killed 53 workers.
Tran Huy Hoan, another nude photographer, told Thanh Nien that he has never planned to exhibit his works.
Nguyen Thang, Editor-in-Chief of Vietnam Pictorial magazine, said: "It is very difficult for Chau to get permission. There has been no precedent, so it is a dilemma for related agencies."