Through centuries, one of the most symbolic elements of a Vietnamese village has been its gate. However, the image is fast disappearing due to rapid modern urbanisation.

One way of keeping the image alive is via photography – an idea artist Quach Dong Phuong started playing with around 20 years ago.

His efforts have culminated in an exhibition entitled Cong Xua (Old Gates), consisting of nearly 700 photos taken of typical village gates in northern Vietnam, which opened in the capital city on Nov. 18 on the occasion of the National Cultural Heritage Day, which falls on Nov. 23.

"Villages in the north usually have a main gate and one leading to the rice fields alongside minor gates demarcating lanes, hamlets and houses. Many have disappeared however," Phuong said.

"Gates differ depending on typical village features. A major trading village such as Cu Da (in Hanoi) would have a sizeable gate while more scholarly villages such as Chem and Ve would have their gates engraved and decorated."

Unlike normal photo exhibitions, Phuong utilised wooden planks and 700 square boxes covered in black-and-white images, some including traditional paint, depicting village gates to create an atmosphere of discarded old postcards.

"By using paint, I wanted to add the ‘colour of time' to some photos to offer a glimpse of the past," he said. "A gate is the face and symbol of a village, behind which lie the culture and traditional customs of Vietnamese people."

Phuong added that he plans to print a set of photo reference books based on traditional Vietnamese village gates.

"It is a way to preserve our ancestral heritage amid fast changing socio-economic development."

Following the exhibition, Phuong plans to put 1,000 Mong ethnic minority faces on display.

"Through my trips to the north of Vietnam during the past 20 years I noticed that traditional ethnic minority costumes have been much altered. I've been particularly fascinated by the architecture, costumes and culture of the Mong."

The current exhibition, Phuong's third and largest since 2000, will run until mid-December at Dong Lac Temple, 42-44 Hang Bac Street./.