The little prince lobs in town

Photographer Vincent Nguyen in aviator mode. Photo courtesy of the Antoine de SAINT-EXUPERY Youth Foundation.
Photographer Vincent Nguyen in aviator mode. Photo courtesy of the Antoine de SAINT-EXUPERY Youth Foundation. VINCENT NGUYEN

The little prince lobs in town

It is one of the best-selling books ever published, has been translated into over 250 languages, and is loved by children and adults alike. And now Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has inspired its own exhibition.

Launching at the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort tomorrow, an exhibition titled The Little Prince’s Journey features 40 photographs by French reporter-photographer Vincent Nguyen, reproductions of the original manuscripts, and a “rare short film” portraying Saint-Exupéry in Canada in 1942, around the time he was penning the book.

Sofitel marketing coordinator Gaelle Bigeard says the hotel chain has been involved with the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation for several years.

The Little Prince at the kasbah in Boulaouane, Morocco.
The Little Prince at the kasbah in Boulaouane, Morocco. Photo courtesy of the Antoine de SAINT-EXUPERY Youth Foundation / © VINCENT NGUYEN

“The Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation was started in 2008 by the heirs of the author of The Little Prince, and his admirers from the worlds of aeronautics and literature,” explains foundation general secretary Nicholas Delsalle.

“True to the spirit of the famous French author and aviator who defended a society based on respect for humankind, cultural diversity, cooperation, commitment and individual responsibility, this institution carries out various projects around the world to improve the everyday lives of youth.”

It is also linked with French NGO Sipar, which works to fight illiteracy and to encourage reading amongst youth in Cambodia. When the opportunity arose to stage the exhibition of this universal book, Bigeard says the Sofitel team jumped at the chance.

“The Little Prince is both the most read and translated book. Did you know that it was voted the best book of the 20th century in France?” she asks. “When visiting Siem Reap to inaugurate a new Sipar school last week, Mr Nicolas Delsalle explained how

The Little Prince is being translated into braille – not only the book itself but the images too – which is a first in the world of books.”

The Little Prince with a falcon in Morocco.
The Little Prince with a falcon in Morocco. Photo courtesy of the Antoine de SAINT-EXUPERY Youth Foundation / © VINCENT NGUYEN

The Little Prince’s Journey exhibition comprises original photographs taken by Saint-Exupéry himself, the five-minute film, original manuscripts and drawings lent by the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris, and Nguyen’s photographs, which all feature the same subject... le petit prince himself.

“It is an exhibition of his travel pictures of The Little Prince figurine that accompanied him in his TV reports following in the footsteps of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,” says Delsalle.

Aviation enthusiast Nguyen got hooked on the novella as soon as he started reading it, Bigeard says, and it triggered his interest in flying – the book, about a pilot who meets a young prince fallen to earth from a tiny planet, is said to be inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s own experiences as a pilot, when he crash-landed in the Sahara desert during an attempt to break a speed record in 1935.

Ostensibly a children’s book, The Little Prince is also seen as an allegorical tale about the human condition, and contains charming illustrations by the author.

“While reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's books and Joseph Kessel's biography of aviator Jean Mermoz, Nguyen discovered the incredible epic of Compagnie Générale Aéropostale, a pioneering aviation company and French first transatlantic airmail company,” says Bigeard. “He caught the aviation bug. In 2003 he took his first flying lesson, and obtained his pilot's licence four years later.”

The Little Prince at sunset on the fjord, Akureyri, Iceland.
The Little Prince at sunset on the fjord, Akureyri, Iceland. Photo courtesy of the Antoine de SAINT-EXUPERY Youth Foundation / © VINCENT NGUYEN

In 2011, Nguyen pitched an idea for documentary series Par Avion to French-German television channel Arte, and became its on-screen ‘reporter-pilot,’ travelling all over the world.

“Eighteen months of work, 10 countries visited, 20,000 kilometers travelled,” Bigeard says. “And Vincent Nguyen always carried round with him his favorite book, The Little Prince, as well as a figurine of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's famous character, which he photographed whenever he got the chance, in all kinds of situations, from Icelandic fjords to the dunes of the Sahara.”

“In 2014, Vincent Nguyen and the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation decided to create this never-before-seen touring art exhibition, The Little Prince's Journey for the benefit of the Sofitel group's guests.”

Saint- Exupéry's great-nephew Olivier d’Agay, who is also managing director of the Antoine de Saint-Exupery Youth Foundation, is delighted with the exhibition and says, “Vincent Nguyen’s work represents for me a very touching tribute from a great TV reporter to the universality of The Little Prince book, the taste for adventure of its creator, Antoine de Saint Exupéry and an incentive to travel and discover.”

The exhibition opens tomorrow, March 15 and runs for two months. It will then move to the Sofitel Phnom Penh, Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi, Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, Sofitel So Singapore and finally Sofitel Saigon Plaza..

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