What the photographer brought back from his Laotian journey is the opposite of the icy pages of tourist brochures. Even when historical, cultural, social or political realities appear only in the background, when they are more evoked than stated, they are present and reflect the situation of a country in full change, emerging from its isolation and opening up a little more to modernity every day while remaining confronted with internal divisions and the difficulty of preserving its identity.
Buddha statues, haloed with radiant light, stand next to a traffic accident. In the early morning, monks perform their daily procession, arousing the generosity of the faithful, while teenagers in love are just a stone’s throw away, kissing each other over a state-of-the-art moped.
Even if Laos is making great strides on the roads dotted with the pitfalls of globalization, notwithstanding tourism that now places it on the map of an unlikely global village, it continues to be threshed by throwing rice into the air and falling into a basket held at arm’s length. Silk is still spun in Akha villages, as it has always been done. In Hmong villages, artificial paradises are reached by smoking the opium that has been cultivated, as has been done from generation to generation since time immemorial.
Secular gestures and traditions attempt to delay the inexorable march of time. Disregarding so-called modernity and so-called progress, everyday life seems immutable, governed only by the essential laws of the universe.
There is a clammy slowness in Yvon Lambert’s photographs, as if he too had succumbed to the rhythm imposed by the waters of the Mekong, a river of legend, source of life and mystery.
When practiced with this rigour and generosity, documentary photography remains a unique and indispensable way of understanding the world. It is said to be from another age, anachronistic, moribund. It has been said for so long that there is no longer any reason to worry about the threat. She is alive and well, and Yvon Lambert provides one of the many proofs.