Photography by Filip Gierlinski

Filip Gierlinski : Filskifoto

Travel photography is an expression of the world, a captured moment and an eye into its peoples and cultures.

Entries in filip gielrinski (2)


The Ta Phin Games 2012

A ‘Push of War’ takes place in front of the cheering crowd.
      As London gets itself ready for the 2012 Olympics this summer, in the northern province of Lao Cai, Vietnam, the locals have their own version of the Games.  In the small village of Ta Phin, about 30 minutes from the market town of Sapa, villagers take part in a variety of sports, challenges and events. Day to day it is a small hillside village, humming with the  bustle of trade between the local tribes and traders from the bigger towns. But in late January, people from the surrounding hills and tribes all come together to celebrate the end of the Tet festival. Over 150 people came to watch and compete in the various games undertaken in the rice fields surrounding the village. In this region, the two main ethnic tribes are the Black Hmong, and the Red Dao. Each with their distinctive, traditional clothes, they add a flare of colour to the games as the hills and valley are shrouded in fog. 

A prize awaits the boy as he climbs to the top of the bamboo - the only one that day to reach the goal.
     The Tet, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival of the Vietnamese year, and usually starts in late January, depending on the Lunar calendar. During this time, many people who have moved away to the big cities travel long distances to come back to the hillside villages, and the communities swell again as everyone returns home for the festive period to eat, drink and be merry. As families sit together and share meals and stories from the past year, even the deceased ancestors are welcomed back to join the family in the festive fun.  

A Black Hmong archer who won this years competition, proudly displaying his bow.

     The atmosphere is playful, everyone watching the games and the whole community seems to be in attendance. From snotty nosed and sticky fingered babies, to village elders, all have turned out to see the fun. I met a group of Red Dao women who were five generations of one family, all cheering on their men who took part in the sports. Goat chasing proved very popular, and a cheer went up from the whole crowd as a young boy shimmed up a bamboo pole to reach a bag of sweets at the top.  Bamboo arrow archery, tug of war and ‘push of war’, bamboo balance, target throwing and many more games are organised on small patches of muddy ground.  Children in bare feet or sandals run amongst the adults watching the games, and even some Vietnamese ‘tourists’ from Hanoi try not to get their high heels stuck in the mud.

A line of Red Dao women, with their baskets full of goods to trade after the games.
     Some games are for selected athletes, and some a free-for-all as the crowds participate in the fun. Throwing beanbags at a flag, dancing and singing, and even the stilt race all take place in the rice fields surrounding the village, and the crowds are maintained by one local policeman with his truncheon.

A group of Hmong girls stand by and watch the muddy pole balance from a distance.
     There is a simplicity to these games which is a lovely thing to see.  It’s about being together, having fun and joining in the celebrations. As a Red Dao lady sings in the main arena, boys try their hand at the bamboo balancing pole with slippery, muddy feet, and the goat chasing pen is alive with laughter and excitement. People are enjoying good, clean (but muddy) fun, from simple games and activities - many of which help practice important hunting and survival techniques. There is a calm order to the proceedings, no one seems to be in charge, but everyone knows what’s going on when and where and crowds move from one area to another to watch a new game. Spectators cheer on the challengers, little food stalls sell hot potatoes and drinks, and it all seems to flow smoothly.

Two Black Hmong girls watch the archery from a small hill.

     After a few hours, the final of the bamboo stilt race, marks the end of the festivities.  People slowly disperse back to their homes and surrounding villages. 
“This year was a lot of fun” says one passer by, “Maybe next year you will play too?” I laugh at the prospect of a westerner trying to catch a goat in the muddy pen. Well I guess it’d be entertaining for the locals at least.


It’s mostly the small boys who challenge themselves on the bamboo balance. The mud certainly made it entertaining.  All words and photography by Filip Gierlinski © Filskifoto


L'Aquila: Two Years On - An Abandoned City

On the 6th April 2009, at 3:32 am, an earthquake rated 5.8 hit the medieval city of L'Aquila, capital of the Abruzzo region of Italy. 308 people died, with thousands more losing their homes, shops and businesses. Around 40,000 people made instantly homeless set up temporary, tented camps, with a further 10,000 re-housed in hotels and hostels in the region. Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, caused controversy with his remarks to the international media likening the victims' experiences to a 'camping holiday'.

Medieval buildings and churches were badly effected, but modern buildings were also badly affected, as banks, shops and cinemas all suffered huge cracks and severe damage.  A dormitory of the L'Aquila University collapsed, trapping many students as they slept. Inadequate construction and poor materials were blamed for the high level of damage to the buildings.  An eye witnesses said as the buildings collapsed you could see how the concrete had been poorly mixed with sand.  In May 2011, seven experts were under charge for failing to give adequate warning before the disaster, as early tremors and quake predictions were ignored.

Two years on, a large part of the town is still lying abandoned, crumbling and untouched. Whole districts and streets are barricaded off behind fences, creating a ghost town. The army still stand guard at street corners to prevent looters and stop people entering the boarded up shops and apartment blocks. Collapsing windows and whole buildings have been bandaged and braced by temporary structures, like external skeletons, awaiting the small team of engineers to survey and begin their restoration.  The frustrations of thousands of local people at this situation manifests itself through their staging of demonstrations with wheelbarrows - a symbol of their desire to clear the city of its rubble and bring it back to life.

"The city is still stuck, emptied of its inhabitants," one local campaigner, Anna Colasanto, told the AFP news agency.

What is left standing tell's the story so far...

The complete set of photos can be seen here - L'Aquila on Flickr