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Book Review: "Requiem, By The Photographers Who Died In Vietnam And Indochina"
Publishers Link (with ISBN details).
This could be a really quick review. Quite simply, even if the thought of War Photography doesn't appeal to you one bit, you need to see this book. In it you'll find startling examples of beautiful landscape photography, reportage, documentary, portrait, and of course War Photography.
Now Photographs rarely really move me. I'm a sucker for emotional moments in films or on TV. The odd tear will appear every time I watch the end of Band of Brothers, during Casualty or Holby City, or anything really where peoples emotions come to the fore, but as I said Photographs in books haven't touched me that deeply, until I read, and re-read this volume. Maybe its the life and death situations, the scenes of bravery and despair, or the fact that every single image in this book is from a Photographer who died doing his or her job, but their are some truly moving moments. You simply have to get a hold of a copy of "Requiem, By The Photographers Who Died In Vietnam and Indochina", edited by Horst Faas and Tim Page, with an introduction by David Halberstam.
So, its an essential read, and I feel a little out of my depth even attempting to review it, so I'm going to start with the blurb from the Dust Cover.
This is a nice big, hard-cover book, with great black and white and colour photographs, and plenty of text to give the images context. The paper quality is superb, and the photo reproductions second to none. There are plenty of full page and even double-page photographs, really doing justice to the work, so even if you just look at the book for the photos and don't bother with the text, you will not be disappointed. I got my copy from the local library, you may well find it in yours, if not order it in.
I'll try and give a little historical context to the images recorded in the book. Indochina, below China, to the East of India and Thailand, was in turmoil for most of the 20th Century. Controlled by the French, as a colony until the Japanese invaded in the Second World War, the Vietnamese Communists, under Ho Chi Minh , hoped for Independence after helping to defeat the Japanese, but after a brief spell under British Control, where we used Japanese soldiers to control the country, it was handed back to the French who then had to deal with a guerrilla army hardened by years of jungle fighting.
Eventually, after the defeat of the French Garrison at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and the subsequent peace accords, Vietnam was divided into two, with the Communists in the North supported by Russia and China, and a Western supported Government in the South. After the agreed unification elections were cancelled, the War continued, with Viet Cong Guerrilla Units operating against the South Vietnamese, and as the war went on NVA regular army units made the long trek from North Vietnam to fight in the South.
American Military Advisers had been in the South for a number of years, but fearing the "domino" effect of a communist takeover, the USA committed ground troops in 1965 to South Vietnam. Despite inflicting staggering losses on the communist Viet Cong and NVA, in 1968 the US public belief that the war in Indochina could be won was severely shaken by the Tet Offensive. All over South Vietnam the remaining VC's and NVA regular units captured villages and towns, even getting inside the US Embassy in Saigon. Despite the fact the in the quick and massive US military response it could be argued the the Viet Cong was virtually wiped out as a military force, meaning that the communists would have to rely on regular army units more, allowing the US to bring its superior firepower and logistics into effect, from that pint on few at home believed that Vietnam was a war that could be won, and the US started to reduce ground troop numbers.
By 1972 US ground troops has been withdrawn. The North Vietnamese entered Saigon, the capital of the South, in 1975, with Laos and Cambodia falling to their respective communist insurgents in the same year.
Into this maelstrom of a situation, where there was no front line and "embedded" journalists were a far-off dream in a spin-doctors mind, photographers went to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to cover the war from newspapers, magazines, the press agencies and also as independent freelancers.
The freedom of the photographer and journalist, simply to jump in a taxi and "find the fighting" was unprecedented - but it also meant that the risks were unprecedented too.
As the dustcover synopsis says, "Requiem" is the photographs of Photographers who died in Indochina, some in direct combat with the enemy, others in helicopters that were shot down, vehicles destroyed by landmines, others kidnapped never to be heard from again.
This means that most of these images are as close to the action as you can get without actually being there. We ride with Larry Burrows on a helicopter mission to rescue downed pilots, we see the pilots lying, dying on the floor of the chopper, and the despair of the Helicopters Gunnery Sergeant back at base, as he tries to come to terms with what he has just experienced.
We're out on patrol with Dickey Chapelle, watching as she captures photographs of a Vietnamese soldier about to execute a Viet Cong Prisoner. A US Marine Commander spoke of her "She'd spread her poncho in the mud like the rest of them and east out of the tin cans like she hated it, the way we do, not because it was something cute. In fatigues and helmet you couldn't tell her from one of the troops, and she could keep up with the best of them". We're also there as Dickey dies, bleeding to death from a wound from a land-mind, caught forever on film by another great, Henri Huet.
If you've read books or articles about the Vietnam War, you've probably seen some of these images before. What you won't have read is the stories behind the lives, and deaths, of the photographers who took them. Informative and moving essays are inter mixed with the photographs, giving the reader a deeper understanding of the photographers motivations and actions.
It's not just the view from the French or US side - we've got rare shots taken by North Vietnamese Combat Photographers, who often, working in primitive conditions, in dark, damp bunkers, would have no idea if the film of prints they sent back up North would be published or even ever seen again.
135 photographers, from all sides, are recorded as having died in the wars in Indochina, and this book is an excellent tribute to their work. "Requiem, By The Photographers Who Died In Vietnam and Indochina" - essential reading for any photographer, just be prepared to be moved and deeply effected.
New End of Year Photo Assignment - "Shape Interrupted!"
We haven't had a photo assignment on the group flickr photo pool at robnunnphoto.com, but I thought it was time for a new one. If you live in the Northern hemisphere the weather probably isn't all that good to be going out shooting - but maybe this will give you some ideas for new photographs.
The theme will be "shape interrupted", so shoot any two photographs on that subject, and upload it in medium size on the thread I've created on the robnunnphoto Flickr group.
Just for fun, no prizes I'm afraid, and we'll run it until the end of the year.
Technique challenges (No Time Limit):
No Sky Landscapes
Fill The Frame!
Dawn / Dusk shots
A Landscape Style Shot With Strong Foreground Interest
Remember to email me your photos if you'd like to me work on them for the Photo Workbench.
To contact me, just click on the link near the top of the page under the big picture.
Thanks for listening, see you on Flickr!
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