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September 2017 In Focus: Doksuri Typhoon, School Opening Ceremonies, Saigon Drag Queens

Once again, typhoons and flooding continue to be in the media spotlight this September with the 10th tropical storm, the worst one in Vietnam in the last 4 years. In Focus this month also features photo essays about opening ceremonies of a new academic year, the disparity in classrooms across the country and the reality in the countryside after waves of immigration to the city.

“Storm-affected Ha Tinh: Many families can’t rebuild their homes” – Tuoi Tre Online
It’s not the first time photojournalist Nguyen Khanh has covered the consequences of natural disasters with a wide-angle lens and a flycam. The bird eye view plays a special role here as it can effectively show the emptiness of Ky Thuong district after the strongest storm in the last 4 years. Besides documenting the collapsed houses, photos of environmental damage and details like the residents’ few objects left also help the audience to understand the difficulty faced by people in Central Vietnam annually.

“Teachers and students on a raft to attend school opening ceremony – VnExpress”
Photojournalist Ngoc Thanh has followed teachers and students on a makeshift raft to cross the river to attend the opening ceremony of the academic year. The series is tightly composed with action shots, highlighting the multiple risks on the road to school in Muong Nhe district that is 20 to 40 kilometers long. Having to cross long, dangerous roads with no means of transportation to go to school is a common, unsolved problem among students living in remote areas.

Classroom contrasts: Portraits of Vietnam’s eye-opening education divide – VnExpress International”
Thanh Nguyen’s series shows classrooms across the country, from mountainous, rural areas to big cities, effectively illustrating the current picture of national education. The disparity in economy and cultural differences are reflected in classroom facilities: there are places equipped with TV and computers while there are ones suffering from a shortage of fresh water.

“Enchanting Drag Queens in the midnight performance at Saigon bars” – Kenh14
As the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella has to come home but Saigon Drag Queen artists are only preparing to be magically transformed into gorgeous ladies. Besides glamorous moments on the stage with neon lights and upbeat music, the lens also turns towards the backstage where artists hurriedly do their makeup in a cramped space to appear their best before the audience. Some clap their hands, some pout in contempt, but above all it’s about the artists who regard Drag as an art form that they follow with passion. Besides the photos, the writing helps to educate readers about the nature of this usually misunderstood performance.

“Villages where time stops”– VnExpress
Empty, uncertain and melancholic are my feelings after reading the article and viewing the images. Through the lens of Do Manh Cuong, villages in Vinh Phuc and Phu Tho seem to wither away with deserted, flooded rice fields. The ironic situation is that many people here are willing to live in shabby tents in the suburb to save money for building a big house in their hometown where nobody resides. This is an unavoidable consequence of the wave of immigration to the city, particularly the “freezing” of economy in rural areas when generations after generations leave in search of a better life.

Thanh Nguyen is a photojournalist for VnExpress. He cares about social, cultural and humanitarian topics. Before starting to work in Saigon from 2016, Thanh was based for 6 years in Central Highlands and South Central Coast of Vietnam.

“In Focus” is a series that highlights outstanding photo essays in the past month so our readers can keep up with the news and learn about building a visual story. This is also to express our gratitude to professionals working around the clock to keep the flame of photojournalism alive.