Originally Posted by kxl
I think that's a highly ethnocentric point of view... Who are we to say that the people in the photos are not actually happy or satisfied?
'simple subsistence' implies measurement against a standard of living. I've never been to North Vietnam (although I hope visit someday), so I would not know whether or not these photos represent simple subsistence or the norm.
Many poor people are happy, of course. But that happiness is often momentaneous, and can disappear in a whim when the next vulnerability factor makes itself present. This is more apparent where communities become disrupted, which doesn't seem to be the case here.
My point is that we often take beautiful pictures of our travels, but our lack of familiarity with the context makes that we don't pick up the signals of what's really going on. With all respect to the OPs pictures, which I really think are very good from a classical/compositional photographic point of view, but there are some clues in the pics that really indicate the poverty level of that community, and I don't really see a lot of happy faces (yes, the children, and the man interacting with the photographer).
And our travel pictures often serve to highlight a romantic ideal of harmony, beauty, honesty and nobility that, by implication, has become opaque in our own living environment. So is the point made in my earlier statement ethnocentric, or is the attitude revealed through our travel photography ethnocentric ? The fact is that we all are ethnocentric, and that we spend part of our photographic lives trying to relativize it or even escape from it.
Back to the OP's pics. Don't you see a juxtaposition of, on the one hand, the composition and the use of light and, on the other, the indications of poverty and a harsh life ? I do.