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Photographers turn images of built-up trash into artistic statements

By Nhu Quynh   February 17, 2022 | 07:00 am PT
Two Vietnamese photographers hope to use images of trash-filled rivers to raise public awareness about plastic pollution.

"I use my camera to capture images of people on land and rivers overflowing with trash," photographer Nguyen Viet Hung explained Tuesday during the opening ceremony of the exhibition 'Song Ke Chuyen Nhua' (Plastic Tale of River) at Goethe-Institut in Hanoi.

The exhibition, which runs until March 15, features photos taken by Hung and photographer Truong Dai Duong as well as short films with messages about reducing plastic waste.

Photographer Nguyen Viet Hung delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of Song Ke Chuyen Nhua (Plastic Tale of River) exhibition at the Goethe-Institut in Hanoi on Feb. 15, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Nhu Quynh

Photographer Nguyen Viet Hung delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the 'Song Ke Chuyen Nhua' (Plastic Tale of River) exhibition at Goethe-Institut in Hanoi, Feb. 15, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Nhu Quynh

Hung is well-known for his nearly 7,000-kilometer motorcycle journey across the country in search of plastic waste. During the 43-day trip through 39 provinces, including 28 coastal provinces, he filmed and took over 3,000 photos documenting environmental pollution caused by plastic waste.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment bestowed upon him the title of "Blue Ocean Ambassador."

According to Hung, who has visited many islands and uninhabited beaches, said he has picked up plastic waste with many languages from various countries on the packaging.

"What legacy will we leave for future generations? Is it better to have an ocean full of fish or an ocean full of plastic?"

Each photograph in the exhibition tells a true story about the state of Vietnam's plastic waste, including beaches in the central province of Binh Thuan covered in plastic bags and domestic waste or images of people eating breakfast on land filled with garbage across the southern coastal province of Kien Giang. He also took photos of a dead forest covered in plastic, and garbage creeping around in caves and alleys.

He observed that people continue to indiscriminately dump their garbage and defecate into the sea.

"Some kids said they didn't even have a toilet," he explained.

Photos of plastic waste by photographer Nguyen Viet Hung on displayed at the exhibition. Photo by VnExpress/Nhu Quynh

Photos of plastic waste by photographer Nguyen Viet Hung on display at the exhibition. Photo by VnExpress/Nhu Quynh

Vietnam has nearly 2,400 different rivers and canals totaling 42,000 kilometers in length.

Rivers, according to Hung, are useful for transportation, but they are also the starting point for waste to be dumped into the ocean, turning it into a common landfill.

Duong said he was honored to be a part of such an important project. As a photographer for over 20 years who has traveled extensively, he finds plastic waste to be particularly disturbing, particularly in tourist areas.

"I want every message I send to the viewer to include authentic pictures with their own stories," Duong said.

Nguyen Dinh Tho, director of the Institute of Strategy, Policy on Natural Resources and Environment (ISPONRE), said at the event Vietnam has approved numerous policies to limit the use of plastic bags and single-use plastic products.

The plastic consumption rate per capita in Vietnam rose ten times between 1990 and 2019. On average, a Vietnamese person now consumes 41.3 kilograms of plastic in a year.

 
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