35 Rare Portrait Photos of Vietnamese People From the 1870s

(Photos by Émile Gsell)

Born 1838 in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, French photographer Émile Gsell served in the military from 1858 to 1866, during which time he learned photography and travelled to Cochin China (now Southern Vietnam), becoming the first commercial photographer based in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).

On the strength of his Cambodian photographs Gsell was awarded a medal of merit at the Vienna International Exhibition, which was held from 1 May to the 31 October 1873 and during which Gsell exhibited two albums of photographs, one of the ruins of Angkor and the other of “the mores, customs, and types of the Annamite and Cambodian populations”.

In April 1875, Gsell accompanied a mission, led by Brossard de Corbigny, to Hu?, though he was not allowed to photograph the people he met nor the Citadel. However, two of his photographs demonstrate that he was in Hanoi at the end of 1875 and from November 1876 to January 1877 Gsell was able to take many views of Tonkin (now Northern Vietnam).

Gsell’s photographs were marketed by Auguste Nicolier, who sold chemicals and photographic supplies in Saigon from 1876.

Émile Gsell died at home in Saigon on 16 October 1879.

Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is a country in Southeast Asia. Located at the eastern edge of mainland Southeast Asia, it covers 311,699 square kilometres. With a population of over 96 million, it is the world’s fifteenth-most populous country. Vietnam borders China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, and shares maritime borders with Thailand through the Gulf of Thailand, and the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia through the South China Sea. Its capital is Hanoi and its largest city is Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam was inhabited as early as the Paleolithic age. The first known states during the first millennium BC centered on the Red River Delta, located in modern-day northern Vietnam. The Han dynasty annexed and put Northern and Central Vietnam under Chinese rule from 111 BC, until the first dynasty emerged in 939. Successive monarchical dynasties absorbed Chinese influences through Confucianism and Buddhism, and expanded southward to the Mekong Delta. The Nguy?n—the last imperial dynasty—fell to French colonisation in 1887. Following the August Revolution, the nationalist Viet Minh under the leadership of communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh proclaimed independence from France in 1945.

Vietnam went through prolonged warfare through the 20th century. After World War II, France returned to reclaim colonial power in the First Indochina War, from which Vietnam emerged victorious in 1954. The Vietnam War began shortly after, during which the nation was divided into communist North supported by the Soviet Union and China, and anti-communist South supported by the United States. Upon North Vietnamese victory in 1975, Vietnam reunified as a unitary socialist state under the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1976. An ineffective planned economy, trade embargo by the West, and wars with Cambodia and China crippled the country. In 1986, the Communist Party initiated economic and political reforms, transforming the country to a market-oriented economy.

The reforms facilitated Vietnamese integration into global economy and politics. A developing country with a lower-middle-income economy, Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies of the 21st century. It is part of international and intergovernmental institutions including the United Nations, the ASEAN, the APEC, the CPTPP, the Non-Aligned Movement, the OIF, and the WTO. It has assumed a seat on the United Nations Security Council twice. Contemporary issues in Vietnam include corruption and a poor human rights record. (Wikipedia)

These rare and amazing photographs Gsell took portraits of Vietnamese people in the 1870s.

Two wealthy girls from An Nam, 1870s
A governor in Cho Lon district, 1870s
A Saigon girl, 1870s
A wealthy Annamese woman and her daughter, 1870s
Portrait of a wealthy family with servant man behind, 1870s
A young Chinese man in Saigon, 1870s
A young water-carrier in Saigon, 1870s
An Annamese man with his umbrella, 1870s
Portrait of a Chinese lady in Saigon, 1870s
Portrait of a dramatics artist, 1870s
A governor in Saigon, 1870s
An Annamese bearer, 1870s
A beautiful Annamese girl, 1870s.
Portrait of an Annamese girl, 1870s
An Annamese woodcutter, 1870s
Portrait of an Annamese young lady, 1870s
Governor of Hai Duong, 1870s
Two S’Tieng ethnic men in the Central Highlands, 1870s
A rich man in Cochinchina with his horse and servants, 1870s
Annamese musicians in Saigon, 1870s
Fruit sellers in Saigon, 1870s
A beautiful Cochinchine woman, 1870s
Wedding in Saigon, 1870s
Portrait of two older Annamese men, 1870s
A beggar in Cochinchina in the 1870s
A group of Annamese upper class in the 1870s
An Annamese girl (left) and a Chinese man in the 1870s
An Annamese girl (left) standing by a Chinese girl in the 1870s
Annamese soldiers in the 1870s
Miss Annam in the 1870s
Opium smoking in Saigon in the 1870s
Portrait of a prince in the 1870s
Portrait of an Annamese aristocratic woman in the 1870s
An Annamese woman in the 1870s
Two Annamese girls in the 1870s

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