The image I chose to analyze was from the photograph album of colonial French Indochina 1890-1900. The title of the album is Photographs of Indochina 1890-1900 which refers to the former French colonial part of Southeast Asia containing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The location of the photo is not specifically given, but all the photos were taken in French Indochina in the 1890s-1900. The photographer’s name is not given, but the photographer was a French colonial resident of the area, due to the handwritten caption of “The dining room” written in French (Photograph Album of Colonial French Indochina, 1890-1900). The photo that stood out to me the most was the one taken of the young Vietnamese Indigenous boy compared to the other images taken of the French colonial residents and their families. I choose this image because it is one of the very few images that shows a young Vietnamese Indigenous person in what looks to be a nice house (French quarters).
The period this photo was taken was around 1890 which was when Vietnam was a colony of France, which had established control over the country through a process of colonization. Overall, this was a time of ongoing conflict and struggle between the French colonial administration and the Vietnamese people, as the French sought to exert greater control over the country and the Vietnamese people resisted their rule. However, this period explains the reason that the photo shows a Vietnamese boy as a servant to the French because during this period.
I think the photographer took this photo because during the French colonial period in Indochina, photographs of Vietnamese people, including servant boys, were often taken by French colonizers and photographers as a way of documenting and showing the “exotic” local population (Tây Bồi Pidgin French, 2022). The audience could be for Europeans to promote the success of the French colonization or specifically for the purpose of academics/research of officials/students. However, this picture raises lots of questions from my perspective such as the power dynamics and relationship between the French and the Vietnamese, the resistance and oppression of the Vietnamese, and the overall influence the French colonization had over Vietnam.
At first observation, I believed the photographer was taking this photo just to document their life and for memories. As I examined the photo which looked to be staged, I got the sense the photographer was taking this photo to highlight the power they held over the boy/Vietnamese people and to show off the beautiful dining room that they could afford, but the local population could not. In a sense, the photographer is trying to show off and add to the feeling of oppression in the Vietnamese population. The servant boy is just a prop to show no matter the age or gender, the French will take control over the Vietnamese population. However, this photographer is only one of many French colonizers that used their wealth and power to assert dominance over these people. Looking back today, the architecture such as the Hanoi Opera House, The Notre-Dame Basilica, The Saigon Opera House, The Presidential Palace St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Vietnam, and many other buildings are all amazing, lavish, expensive, and beautiful examples of the French used architecture to assert their superiority and wealth status over the Vietnamese (Hanoi Opera House, 2022). While these architectural buildings are huge ways for the French to look superior, many French colonizers such as the one who took this photo used their lavish homes, furniture, and clothes to emphasize their superior status (Holidify, 2020). Overall, the architecture, the clothes, the furniture, and most importantly the oppressed servant boy all show the immense influence the French colonization had on Vietnam and the oppression of the Vietnamese people caused due to the constant reminder that the French were superior.
After examining the photograph, I can make the connection of the photo to what we have learned in class about the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam. The photo shows the control that France had over the people of Vietnam and more importantly, the oppression they faced and the power dynamic in Indochina during this period (History.com Editors, 2010) The Vietnam Declaration of Independence from France was a historical document that declared the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam and the establishment of an independent Vietnamese state. The declaration was read on September 2, 1945, by Ho Chi Minh, the leader. The declaration was a significant moment in Vietnamese history, as it marked the beginning of a long struggle for Vietnamese independence against the French. Additionally, the declaration also had an impact on other colonial powers in Southeast Asia inspiring nationalist movements in other countries to fight for their independence.
In conclusion, this photograph opened my eyes to the power the French had on the Vietnamese population and the impact colonialism has not only on the culture and population of the areas, but also on the architecture, education, and economic status of these areas.
“Hanoi Opera House – a Famous Colonial Architecture (History, Hours, Map).” Vietnam Discovery Travel, 17 Jan. 2022, https://vietnamdiscovery.com/hanoi/activities/hanoi-opera-house/.
History.com Editors. “Vietnam Declares Its Independence from France.” History, A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/vietnam-independence-proclaimed.
Holidify. “French Architecture in Vietnam: 11 Examples That Show French Influence on Vietnamese Architecture.” Holidify, Holidify, 9 June 2020, https://www.holidify.com/pages/french-architecture-in-vietnam-1466.html.
“Photograph Album of Colonial French Indochina 1890-1900.” Photograph Album of Colonial French Indochina 1890-1900 – Early Photography of Asia, https://cudl.colorado.edu/luna/servlet/detail/CUB~34~34~153~1227002:Photograph-album-of-colonial-French.
“Tây Bồi Pidgin French.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Dec. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C3%A2y_B%E1%BB%93i_Pidgin_French#:~:text=T%C3%A2y%20B%E1%BB%93i%20%28Vietnamese%3A%20ti%E1%BA%BFng%20T%C3%A2y%20B%E1%BB%93i%29%2C%20or%20Vietnamese,%28T%C3%A2y%29%20%5Bof-%20or%20spoken%20by%5D%20male%20servants%20%28B%E1%BB%93i%29%22.