Water Puppets, Hanoi, 2011

It’s been nearly a month since I posted any of my travel images, so I thought I’d do so today with some more photos from my trip to Vietnam in March. Today’s subject: puppets.
I made these photos at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. This is a temple devoted not to a religion, but rather to the philosophy of Confucianism, which is based (not surprisingly) upon the teachings of the 5th Century BCE Chinese philosopher Kong Fuzi (“Master Kong”), better known to the western world (you guessed it) as Confucius.
As far as I know, however, these puppets have nothing to do with ancient Chinese philosophy. Rather, they represent a Vietnamese tradition that goes back centuries: water puppetry. Its history in Vietnam dates back to the 11th Century, when people in the north would use the flooded fields as a stage for entertainment.
That form of entertainment is still carried on today, most notably at the Water Puppet Theater in Hanoi, where I saw a performance. It’s a unique form of puppetry, with the human performers standing waist deep in a pool of water, hidden behind a curtain, while the puppet surrogates they control are out front entertaining the crowd. An orchestra playing traditional Vietnamese instruments provides musical accompaniment.

It’s all a lot of fun, and the action in the water can get pretty raucous at times, as I recall. The main down side to seeing a performance at the theater, quite honestly, was photography. This may be surprising to read coming from a photographer, but I think there are times and places where photography should be banned – or, at least, flash photography. There I was, trying to enjoy the show, when my concentration would be jolted by the flash of someone’s camera every few seconds. I mean, enough is enough! Just sit back and enjoy the show, people, and allow others to enjoy the it, too.
As I said, though, these puppets were on display at the Temple of Literature in a much more tranquil setting. They really are marvelous, portraying different characters in Vietnamese society and each seeming to have a unique personality. They truly are wondrous.


Here’s a travel photo of a different sort. I was going through some of my old 35mm transparencies, when I came upon this photo that I made in Berlin, Germany, in 1993.
Those of you who’ve travelled to or have lived in Europe probably know that society there is somewhat less conservative than it is here in the U.S. An advertisement like this on the wall in a place like Germany will not raise any eyebrows. Try to post an ad like this in a public place in the United States and you’re asking for trouble.

About Dave Rudin

Dave Rudin is a fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He specializes in art nude and travel photography, using black & white film and making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom.
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