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Đinh Tiến Mậu, Photographer of Old-School Saigon Glamor, Passes Away at 85

You might not know who Đinh Tiến Mậu is, but if you’re a fan of nhạc vàng, his works are impossible to miss.

As Tuoi Tre reports, Đinh Tiến Mậu, Saigon’s photographer extraordinaire, passed away at home on October 8 at age 85. According to Mậu’s family, he died due to old age. The lensman was best known for his glamor shots of countless artists, musicians, actors and other celebrities in Saigon in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of Mậu’s most famous photographs include portraits of Thái Thanh, Kiều Chinh and Thanh Nga.

Nhật Thiên Lan (left) and Hà Thanh (right).

The most crucial quality that makes his creations so visually arresting is an ability to capture the “soul” of the artists, usually through many hours of befriending, observing and examining, down to minute details, what kind of angles, lighting and poses work best to translate the subject’s personality into the shot.

Until 2004, Đinh Tiến Mậu ran his own photography studio, named Vien Kinh, at 227 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, which used to be Phan Dinh Phung Street before 1975. Vien Kinh’s shop front became an important “landmark” in the neighborhood for passersby, who usually couldn’t help but stop by to marvel at the lively portraits he put on display.

Acrosss his career, Đinh Tiến Mậu has recorded the youthful years of many Vietnamese icons.

He was born in 1935 at Lai Xa Village, now part of Hanoi. Lai Xa, once an agricultural community, turned into Vietnam’s surprising national center for photography at the end of the 19th century. In 1948, when Mậu was just 13 years old, he moved to Saigon under a photography apprenticeship at the Van Van photography studio on Bui Thi Xuan Street, learning how to develop film photos from scratch. 

In 1958, he decided to carve his own path with his own shop, though it took four locations for the business to settle. He spent six years at King’s Photo at 45 Ngo Quyen Street in District 5 until the establishment of the legendary Vien Kinh from 1963 until 2004. His studio witnessed a myriad of Saigon stars during its run, from cải lương icons Út Trà Ôn and Thanh Nga to nhạc vàng heartthrob Hùng Cường.

Mai Hương (left) and Hoàng Oanh (right).

After 1975, he worked for Tuoi Tre and then Khan Quang Do newspapers as a photojournalist before retiring in 1985 and taking his photographic talents to his home studio. Đinh Tiến Mậu’s life story and the many tales surrounding his studio was turned into book, written by journalist Nguyễn Vĩnh Nguyên.

“Đinh Tiến Mậu epitomizes the ideal photographer, a rare classic and decent artisan in our current era,” Nguyên writes in Vietnamese. “He’s a laid-back, courteous and talented lensman of a glamorous Saigon of the past.”

Hương Lan.

Kim Cương on the cover of Truyen Phim magazine.

[Photos via Tuoi Tre and Nhac Xua]