The Unforgettable ‘Hidden Smile’ : The Most Expensive Photograph Sold in Asia

Photography is in itself an art that calls for creativity, imagination, and passion coupled with technical skills to get that perfect angle. A photograph carries with it many memories and showcases the artistic abilities of the photographer, that has a deep meaning attached to it. From capturing stories to portraits with emotions, a photographic artist draws inferences from diverse cultures across the world to have them reflected in a picture, more than words can ever say. 

One such portrait is the  ‘Hidden Smile’ which has won hearts across the world and is being featured as the most expensive photograph sold in Asia. This magical photograph is of a 72-year-old Vietnamese tour boat captain who laughed and covered her mouth when asked for her photo. The resulting product garnered much love and fame, catching everyone’s eyes and getting sold for something as high as $150,000 USD. 

‘The Hidden Smile’ was captured by Rehahn, who is best known for portraying the perfect blend of fine art and documentary style through his travel photography skills. The old woman shown in the photograph is Madame Bui Thi Xong, whose portrait has officially entered the permanent collection of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi. The photograph was also sent to French President Emmanuel Macron to mark the 45th anniversary of France-Vietnam diplomatic relations, thus creating history.

“To me, this photograph is representative of the real Vietnam. It blends modesty and humor, old age and happiness. It encompasses the true spirit of the woman who has now become my muse – the unforgettable Madame Xong”, quotes Réhahn.

During his photography voyage, Réhahn realized that covering one’s mouth is a common gesture in Vietnam for reasons such as modesty, politeness, discomfort or joy, people cover their mouths when they laugh or receive a compliment. This is when he started to capture a series of such photographs showing the complex beauty of the hidden smile and the diverse culture that Vietnamese people share.  

Not only this, the ‘Hidden Smile’ is the most iconic image, having graced the cover of Rehahn’s first book “Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrasts Volume I” in 2014. The book quickly became a best-seller, selling in over 29 countries. In 2015, the Asian House Museum in Havana, Cuba, chose “Hidden Smile” for its permanent collection. 

The artist behind the Hidden Smile is often cited as the photographer who “captures souls” and is known for his portraits of Vietnam, Cuba, Malaysia, and India. He is considered to be an important figure in post-war photography in Vietnam and is one of the top travel portrait photographers in the world. 

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