Between the Silent Eyes
Nhan Tran (Vietnam)
Since late 2019, I have been documenting the stories of young mothers in the Hmong community in Ha Giang province, Vietnam.
The Hmong are one of 53 indigenous minority groups in Vietnam and primarily reside in the mountainous regions of North Vietnam. They are also one of the most impoverished communities in Vietnam, traditionally leading an agrarian lifestyle, with many families earning a living by farming the land. Their strongly patriarchal, patrilineal culture often views women’s roles as shouldering the bulk of domestic labor and childcare, with little to no say in family decisions.
Despite national laws that state that marriage can only lawfully take place at the age of 18 for women and 20 for men, Hmong girls frequently marry before they reach a legal age, and bear children soon after.
“Between the Silent Eyes” aims to explore the lives of these young women as they are forced to grow up before their time, navigating their roles as wives, mothers and daughters-in-law, even as they hold on to their dreams and hopes. Many of them aspire to move to larger cities and towns to earn a higher wage, to provide a better life for their families and try to step out of their poverty circle. Still, they face unstable jobs with incommensurable income.
I also photograph their resilience and precarity as they deal with the challenges of raising a family at a young age. This situation is shared by numerous young Hmong women who similarly grapple with the difficulties of balancing traditional practices with modern needs, and their youthful nature with familial duty.
In my own life, I have learned that the outside world does not see the inside of you. With this project, I aim to underline the importance of hearing from and caring for underrepresented and vulnerable communities amid a broader movement towards social, economic and gender equality.
As a woman who lives in a developing country like Vietnam, where women often do so much of the work but are not seen, or credited with being important in the society, in the family, which urges me to do this work to create a space, first for me, then for other women whom I meet, to uplift their voice which can contribute a small piece to make positive impact to how women are seen and treated.
This series is part of my wish project regarding the Hmong community. Now, I stopped photographing for a while and started thinking and expanding the project by filming, but still full of doubts and thoughts. The two fields are very different in how to operate the work, but I am excited too.
A part of this project was exhibited in Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, and was generously supported by National Geographic Covid-19 Emergency Funding. Link to the exhibition:
Nhan Tran (Nhàn) is a Vietnamese documentary photographer based out of Ho Chi Minh city. Her works focus on long-term stories featuring social issues amid equitable and sustainable development in her home country. She is currently working on several new stories about minority groups, exploring the theme of human conditions, and trying to push her boundaries. She is a member of Women Photograph.