Ms. La and Ms. Noi
by Boudsaba Daosaing and Soysouda Phongchaleun (12 years old) – Laos
Two students, Ms. La and Ma. Noi, were at their school. They were talking about cleaning the school. It was their group’s job to keep the school clean this week. 8am-11:30am was learning time, then after was cleaning time, then after was play time.
After the girls finished talking, the teacher said it was time for story telling. Ms. Noi and Ms. La disagreed on what their story’s topic should be. The teacher heard the two girls arguing, and asked “what are you arguing about?”. They were arguing about the topic of Lao culture. Ms. La said that modern-day Lao girls wear their hair too long and their skirts too short, but Ms. Noi said Lao girls wear their skirts too long and always keep their hair up in a bun.
The teacher said that in traditional Lao culture, women should always wear their hair up and keep their skirts long, especially in temples, because it is respectful. They both apologized too each other. Eventually Ms. La agreed with Ms. Noi, but they both agreed that for all cultural events, they should remain respectful, but it is ok to be more modern in their daily lives.
From my time teaching in Luang Prabang, it became very clear that tradition, culture, and humility were concepts of huge importance in every-day life. But like all growing places in the new global age, and none more than Asia, traditions are rapidly making way for the younger generation and the modernization they often prefer.
To that end, Boudsaba and Soysouda decided to make their story about this conflict. Sure, it’s simple and to the point, but it highlights the conflict that comes with both worlds old and new. I really like that there is compromise in this. It’s pretty common that stories tend to look upon traditionalism as close-minded and fuel by fear, while modernity is full of acceptance and progression. I think the girls did a great job of showing that neither side is really wrong, and their friendship keeps them in check about their opposing views. Tradition here isn’t about oppression, but respect and cultural preservation. Likewise, modernity is about branching out and flowing with new situations.
So I decided to make a collodion wet-plate style image to really bring it back to the traditional days. But, since I didn’t happen to be lugging a wet-plate setup and developing kit through the Laotian highlands, it had to be done in photoshop. To finish off the traditional look, we decided to shoot them in some quite traditional, quite old, and quite expensive clothing and jewelry (on loan from one of Luang Prabang’s squealably-quaint antique shops).
Soysouda was a little bashful to hike her skirt up to her knee level at first, which I found funny, since they were both wearing thigh-length shorts before they changed into costume o.O. I guess it goes with their story: Traditional times call for traditional actions.