Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Christian Rodriguez | Xiếc (Vietnamese Circus)

Photo © Christian Rodriguez - All Rights Reserved
I've always thought that circus performers had sad lives. Perhaps it was becasue of the clowns with their tragic-comical faces and makeups. So I'm not all all surprised that Hanoi’s prestigious state-run circus, a relic of Vietnam’s Marxist past, lost a third of its budget and will have no government funding at all by the end of the decade.

It is reported that a majority of circus artists suffer occupation-related illnesses.Common conditions include broken limbs, fractured bones, spine curvature, and stomach ailments, while bruises and bleeding occur on a daily basis. And circus artists in Vietnam are paid poorly, face numerous health risks, and even suffer life-threatening, debilitating conditions from their lifelong dedication to their profession.

Christian Rodriguez brings us close to the backstage lives of these Vietnamese circus performers in his compelling Xiếc photo essay. He spent eight months in Vietnam over the years of three trips from 2009 to 2012, and managed to produce intimate images of these workers by living amongst them; taking up residence for four months in an abandoned theater in Hanoi, where the performers had to build their own rooms out of wood and plastic. 

He tells us that the circus artists in Vietnam make about $150 a month, plus another $4 for each performance. This is not enough to live on, so most of them augment their salaries by performing at private parties or nightclubs. The Vietnam Circus Federation was founded by Mr. Ta Duy Hien (1889-1966) on January 16, 1956. However, things change and although circuses are still popular in Vietnam, especially in small towns and villages, the Vietnamese in the larger cities have found other forms of entertainment.

Christian Rodriguez is an Uruguayan photographer, whose work focuses on issues related to gender and identity. He studied different drawing and painting techniques, and worked as cameraman at VTV (Uruguay). He joined the staff of the newspaper El Observador (Uruguay), and collaborated with various news agencies such as France Presse, AP, EFE, and Reuters. He also produced fashion and advertising campaigns. Amongst his assignments were the coverage of the conflict between Israel-Hezbollah in the southern Lebanon. In 2011 he was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass of the World Press Photo. His work has been published in different international media such as The New York Times, ​The Guardian, The New Yorker, El Mundo, Yo Dona, Esquire, La Nación, El País, Página 12, ABC, El Observador, and Lento, among many others; and it has been exhibited in Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, United States, Spain, France, Italy, UK and Cambodia.