Photo Essay: Huế’s hidden compositions

It took four years of studying art history for me to realize that my mother, an artist, arranges the furniture in her house into still lives.  Each placement of a shelf, a chair, a painting on the wall or her collection of sea glass are arranged in a small composition.  Thanks to her, and the art history major, I’ve learned to see everything as a potential painting or photograph; line, texture and perspective are essential to the way I observe the world around me.  Huế offered itself up to my camera.  Daily life, the Citadel, the river and tombs all presented perfectly composed photographs.  (Honestly, I can’t take credit).

Incense dries in bunches along the side of the highway.  I checked that no Vietnamese people were around before kneeling below the kerb to take the picture, although if they had seen they probably would have just laughed and said, “Ha! Crazy Tays (foreigners)!”

Twenty of the original 148 buildings still stand in the Hue Citadel, thanks to French and American bombs.  The remaining buildings are in varying states of restoration, a process which fascinates me to no end.  Much of the Citadel still lies in ruins, as evidenced by the broken tiles that were once a floor, stacks of corrugated tin for a roof and rotting windows.

In parts of Huế’s Citadel I felt like Mary Lennox entering the secret garden for the first time.  They were quiet, with few wanderers and fewer tourists, and lovely in a decaying way that made the ruins feel far more ancient than they actually are.

Restoration in process: yellow roof tiles, reserved for the emperor, are lined up waiting to replace old, broken ones.  These were at the Tomb of Tu Duc, one of the imperial tombs outside of Huế.


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