Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rediscovering the past

After achieving quite satisfactory results with the old glass-plate negatives that I mentioned in my previous post I started to look for more unwanted negs from Indochina from the French Colonial period. I returned to Vietnam in January revisiting some locations that I had not been to since 1997 but unfortunately did not find any old negatives along the way. But, just before I left on the trip I found some more on eBay and they were waiting for me on my return. Amongst those that I bought was this 6 x 13cm glass-plate negative of an old war veteran.

The seller, who lives in France, said that they belonged to his great grandfather who served with the Colonial troops in Africa and French Indochina but did not have much more information than that, although based on the clothing worn by the women in some of the portraits I deduced that they were from Tonkin (Northern Vietnam), most likely the North West and possibly even from Laos.

My hunch was confirmed when I produced a Cyanotype from the veteran's negative as I was able to identify the medal on his breast. It is one that I have in my collection, which I found in an antique shop in Vientiene in the early 2000's.  He is wearing the Lao Order of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol which was originally instituted in 1909 for "civil and military merit in the development of the Kingdom and for devotion to the Kingdom (of Laos)." There are several classes of this award and the subject is wearing the Knight division, which is one of the lower orders and was most likely awarded to this individual after ten years service in the military. I don't know much more about the subject of this photograph, but am hoping that the vendor who sold me the negatives can tell me a bit more about his great grandfather and I can start to add more pieces of information to the puzzle.