Mai Tong is the “Best in Show” winner of the Longwood Gardens Themed Images, below in her own words is a small glimpse into her world, thank you Mai, your words and images are both sensitive and beautiful. Please click on the individual images to see a larger view.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved everything that speaks in a quiet tone: a single object on a vast canvas, a face lost in a crowd, a bird wandering off her flock, a lone tree on a deserted meadow, a wilting flower, the boundary of the blueness between the sky and the sea, the ghost note between the musical notes, a muted percussion ... and most of all: the silence of a sunset. A love for anything that defies articulation and offers a sense of peace.
I was born and grew up in the shadow of a war that ripped our country in two. Peace was a concept uncertain and distant in an ancient city that was hung over and disturbed by the sound of cannon mixed with the sound of temple bells at night. War was so close to home. That was Hue, the Imperial City in Central Vietnam where childhood memories turned into immense graveyards, haunted by gruesome images of mass graves of thousands of innocents died in fierce battles. Peace then existed only in prayers at night.
Many years after the war had ended, I started to pick up camera and started taking photos when I was still a refugee in the U.S. I have loved to photograph anything that gives a sense of peacefulness since then, when you can hush the thoughts in your mind, be with the moment and one with the subject you are photographing. I love the setting sun, it gives me that sense of complete stillness and silence. I chase after sunsets wherever I travel. I own thousands of images of sunsets from many places I've been to. It's a saddening feeling for something fading away, yet it offers the hope of a new dawn.
I also love to photograph children, little Buddhist monks, especially those in remote regions of Vietnam, poor and removed from modern civilization. I could follow them tirelessly just to be able to catch a smile on their faces. Sometimes, I made trips after trips back home just to look for them, for the ones that I had met in previous trips. I often saw them in my sleep, these sad, voiceless faces.
A confession if I may about the photographers I admire: I've hardly had time to contemplate other people's work, but I've followed the work of Steve McCurry and Denise Ippolito the past two years when I started to take photography seriously. I found that Denise's is built on a precept of simplicity, elegance and grace, a sweetness almost like a lullaby; and McCurry's compelling imagery is a loud and clear sense of human compassion.
Dear Denise, I'm sorry for these fragmentary pieces from my mind today. It's hard to write about oneself and I could not put the pieces together as coherently as I would like. I'm sending images I took mostly from Vietnam and Myanmar. I kept coming back to Vietnam even though there are many spectacular places in the world that are the dream of photographers, but I am only happy and feel connected when I am in my homeland, speaking the same language with the people and with the scenery there. It was the closest and most emotional photographic experience I got through the camera lens. The innocent faces of the children in the highlands, the toothless smiles of old ladies, even the sound of temple bells in the evening sun can be captured by using just light and color. Those are the images I could never find anywhere else in the other parts of the world.
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