HCMC retoucher creates free memorial portraits of Covid victims

By Pham Nga   September 27, 2021 | 07:31 pm PT
Nguyen An of HCMC has been reproducing free portraits of Covid fatalities to appease grieving families over the past few months.

Lam Hoang Thien lost his mother to Covid-19 at the beginning of August. But when the 31-year-old finished his quarantine period, he had to temporarily use an old photo of his mother taken in 2011 for her home funeral since he couldn't find a proper memorial portrait.

At this time, HCMC was hit by a storm, and the wind kept blowing the photo down from the altar, making him feel "heartbroken."

One day when he was surfing social media, he saw An offering to provide free Covid memorial portraits and decided to text him.

A day later, Thien received the edited photo. He was later helped by a local militia member to find a place to print out the picture.

A family places an edited memorial portrait of a family member died from Covid-19 on their phone when sending prayers and burning incense. Photo courtest of An

An edited memorial portrait of a Covid victim. Photo courtesy of An

"I think this memorial portrait will somewhat comfort my mother's spirit. This also makes my siblings and I feel less guilty for not being able to pay her a proper tribute during this time," he said.

Thien is one of nearly 300 families who have lost loved ones due to Covid-19 for whom Nguyen An has created free memorial portraits.

An, 33, director of a uniform design and manufacturing company in Go Vap District, said: "It took me two weeks to think if I should do this or not. I was scared when sending the post, worrying people would think I'm slandering their family members."

But he realized tens of thousands of people had died because of Covid-19, so he shouldn't hesitate and needed to act immediately. HCMC, epicenter of the fourth Covid wave that struck in late April, has recorded nearly 376,000 cases.

Before posting on social media, he messaged online group administrators to let them know his true intention. He was surprised when the community supported his idea and widely shared the post.

An's original goal was to receive photos of the victims' families, edit them, print them out before sending them back.

But it's quite an arduous job at this time since no printing shops are open and finding a shipper is quite challenging.

So he was only able to edit the photos and send the file back to the family of the deceased. If anyone can't find a place to print, he suggests opening the photo on their phones and placing it on the altar every time the family wants to burn incense.

Nguyen An edits photos of Covid-19 victims. Photo courtesy of An

Nguyen An edits photos of Covid-19 victims. Photo courtesy of An

In the first week, about 30-40 people sent him photos, asking for his help. Most of them are photos taken from old ID cards, sometimes almost completely blurred. Many people asked for his sympathy because they "can't find any clear pictures."

"When a person was healthy, but suddenly passed away, no one thought to prepare for this day," An said.

To produce clear photos, it takes him less than 15 minutes. But poor quality photos can take an entire afternoon since he has to edit the skin color, hair or outfit as best he could. On many days, An has to sit in front of the computer until 2 a.m.

An shared the request he remembers most was a 3x4 photo plastered on cardboard, with the name, year of birth, and year of death of a woman.

Nguyen Thi Hoa, 33, who sent the photo said the deceased was her sister-in-law.

"My sister was 23 weeks pregnant when she and the child passed away. My brother is now raising two small children by himself," Hoa wrote.

An recalled another situation when a young man asked him to help fix a photo of his father who died of Covid-19. But the next day, he texted An again, saying: "Can you help me edit another picture?"

Opening the image file, An saw another person and so learned his grandmother had just succumbed to Covid too. At the time, An felt sorry for the person sending him the text.

He shared a lot of people who sent him photos had lost two or even three loved ones to Covid-19 in a very short time.

"About 20 percent of the photos I receive are of people under the age of 30."

"The pictures that kept pouring in made me realize how thin the line between life and death is. Now, money has no meaning anymore. Being able to breathe normally is already a blessing," he said, adding that despite having to close his company for nearly four months, he considers himself lucky.

An said he hopes his action would comfort and help families of Covid victims overcome their pain.

His biggest wish at this time is for the number of people asking him to edit photos to gradually drop to zero.

"I see not as many people texting as in the first wave. It's a positive signal that the epidemic is gradually being contained," he said.

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