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Local Photographer Recreates Mai Trung Thứ Paintings in Fashion Shoot

In hopes of recreating the paintings of silk master Mai Trung Thứ, photographer Minh Sơn and his collaborators have done something extraordinary with this photo collection. The resulting works bear striking resemblance to their painted predecessors and have taken Vietnam’s social media by storm recently.

Decades after his death, Mai Trung Thứ’s graceful, cheeky, and culturally distinct gouache works have been a beacon of inspiration for artists and designers alike. Motivated by a love for the painting master, Hanoi-based photographer Minh Sơn decided to collaborate with some like-minded friends to execute the “Mai Trung Thứ” photoshoot. After just a few days online, the images have been well-loved by Vietnamese netizens, who were impressed by how faithful the photographs are to their painting counterparts.

Based on 'Woman With a Red Cushion' (1971).

The photo collection was created by the group based on seven famous artworks by Mai Trung Thứ, including ‘Lady Writing a Poem’ (1943), ‘Woman With a Red Cushion’ (1971) ‘Toilette De La Mariée,’ ‘La lecture’ (1956), ‘Turban rose’ (1968), ‘Woman With Veil’ (1953), and ‘Conversation’ (1966). The project was also a special gift Sơn intended for his friend and collaborator, designer Thiều Ngọc, who was also the main model for the photoshoot.

Based on 'Turban rose' (1968).

Based on 'Lady Writing a Poem' (1943).

Based on 'Woman With Veil' (1953).

Sơn tells Saigoneer of the idea behind the shoot: “We love Mai Trung Thứ’s paintings, but we can’t afford one for ourselves, so we have aspired to create this project for a long time. Not until Thiều Ngọc’s birthday this year did we finally sit down to execute it.”

Recreating the original works proved to be a bigger challenge than expected for the crew. Sơn shares that they tried their best to be as precise as possible in arranging the set, picking the lighting and props in order to mimic the paintings. Still, the team also sprinkled in some personal touches, such as how Ngọc played with the costume choices, incorporating some modern accessories. “This creative touch not only enlivened the frame but also reflected my passion for design,” she comments.

Based on 'Conversation' (1966).

Nonetheless, the biggest hurdle for the photoshoot team was post-production. “To preserve the feeling of decades-old antique paintings, we spent a lot of effort to edit the images to get that vintage feel in colors and materials. This phase took half the time of the whole project,” Sơn explains. Even though it took a considerable amount of time, he felt that the period also prompted him to peruse Mai Trung Thứ’s paintings more intently. He came out of it with a deeper appreciation of the artistic ingenuity of the master painter whom he’s admired for years.

Post-production was the hardest part because the group had to edit the photos so they match the originals in both lighting and material.

Mai Trung Thứ, La Lecture, 1956.

A fascinating aspect about the shoot was how Thiều Ngọc played every single character present in the photographs. “Posing for all the roles by myself was really fun because I had the chance to explore the mood of each person who appears in the photos,” she says. According to Sơn, to replicate the scene in the original works, Ngọc had to be positioned very precisely and made many amusing expressions. But the challenge also made the experience more fulfilling for the team.

Thiều Ngọc, the model for the project, played different characters in the same photo.

Mai Trung Thứ, Toilette De La Mariée.

After publishing the images on Facebook, Minh Sơn was taken aback by the cascade of positive reactions from Vietnamese netizens. He says: “Thanks to the kind words and constructive feedback regarding this project, we feel encouraged to possibly work on more photoshoots. We hope that our ‘Mai Trung Thứ’ collection will help promote an appreciation for Vietnamese paintings and culture among youths.”

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