Di tu

In Vietnamese, ‘Di tu’ is a phrase meaning ‘becoming a monk’. For this series, which he made in Hu?, Charles Fréger visited four pagodas and schools for bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns). This was his second trip to the Far East, after the series Rikishi. Bhikkhus, like sumo wrestlers, are archetypes of Oriental culture. Fréger’s intention here was not to capture the spiritual person beneath the habit and in the pagoda. He was more interested in adolescent bodies and the way they move in an environment with strict rules. Boys and girls here took as readily to the business of posing as French school students did – quick to strike the same faintly defiant poses. Fréger sometimes had the surprising impression that he was dealing with a gang, except that the members were dressed rather soberly. Conical hats punctuate a landscape of paddy fields. And the grim silhouettes of the bonsais that the bhikkhus have to look after, are everywhere. The regular, meticulous pollarding of these trees is a reflection of an environment in which young people’s bodies develop and grow with as much constraint as the branches of the stunted trunks that hem them in.