Rehahn Croquevielle arrived in Vietnam from France six years ago as a volunteer in Hoi An. Before long, the beauty of his new home inspired him to take up photography. He has travelled to the furthermost corners of the country to capture the lives of the nation's ethnic communities.

In a small space at a Vietnamese Women Day's fair held on October 20 in Hanoi, Croquevielle's photo collection shines out with its vivid images of women and young girls of ethnic minority groups. Naturally, every picture tells it own story. Croquevielle stands in the middle of the exhibition. As the only expat, he creates a lot of interest and catches the eye of visitors, mostly teenagers, who stop off to scrutinise his work.

Prominent among the 20 photos on display is on of an 84-year-old woman from northern Vietnam wearing a conical hat, her right hand clasped against her forehead while the other hand covers her mouth. Her eyes sparkle like stars surrounded by wrinkles, yet an impression of her strong inner spirit shines through.

"I wanted her to pose like that. A straightforward smile would have been too generic. By doing so, people realise it is very Rehahn. It also helps make audience focus only on her eyes and her beautiful wrinkle," says Croquevielle.

One of the visitors to the exhibition, Pham Binh Minh, says she was strongly impressed by the photo's visual effects. "These photos excite me. I have never seen anything so natural and broad-minded. It looks like he sees everything from a different angle," Minh says.

Born in Normandy, France, in 1979, Croquevielle admits he has been captivated by Vietnam's beauty and people since he volunteered in Hoi An six years ago. "At that time, I was a member of Enfants du Vietnam, a French charity organisation. We appealed for benefactors to help disabled children in Hoi An, Da Nang, Tra Kieu, and Tanh Binh, and I wanted to spend more time here. I ended up staying, and that is when my love for photography started," Croquevielle says.

"As a photographer, I think Vietnam is a paradise. With so many colours and contrast, Vietnam is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. As a human, I love almost everything, but the lifestyle in Hoi An is really what I'd been looking for all my life. The culture, a smile from my neighbours, the food and simply riding my motorbike."

Croquevielle has taken over 25,000 photos of Vietnam, most of which are of elders, children and landscapes – his biggest sources of inspiration. "Children are natural, candid and generous. The portraits are always pure and full of grace, even when they are sad. Working with them is harder than anyone else. The elderly are wise and their faces are marked by time. The lines run deep across their faces, and they are the proof that the beauty has no age!" he adds.

The 34-year-old says that these extraordinary photos were taken on the road while he was teaching himself photography. It is clear his skills have improved after several trips around the world.

One of his favourite moments was taking a photo of an old Mong woman holding a tobacco pipein her hands, with her eyes twinkling in the sun. "At first, she was shy, but then she showed me how to smoke. I coughed like crazy, and so did she. I caught that moment of her and took a shot. It was funny. It is like every photo of mine has a story behind," he explains.

"I love meeting people, sharing and smiling with them. I have so many stories about families I have met on my trips. We had a good time, drank tea and ate together sometimes. That's enough to make me happy all day. About me, I'd say I'm an impatient man as well as a perfectionist. I'm not always easy to be around sometimes. Good is never enough and I always strive for more. Sometimes I take a hundred photos of just one subject."

Croquevielle is planning a five-day trip to central Vietnam. The journey will take him to Kon Tum to visit ethnic groups. "I realised that both Vietnamese and foreign photographers mostly go to north Vietnam. I will explore other regions of Vietnam in November. I have already met the Hre and Co Tu people, but I will meet eight other ethnic groups on this trip. It will be the last piece for my first book 'Viet Nam, Mosaic of Contrasts'," says Croquevielle with a blazing smile.-VNA