Vietnam War Photography: commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

The 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War is being commemorated by the Associated Press with a photography book called Vietnam: The Real War, A Photographic History by the Associated Press. Pete Hamill, a photographer who worked in Vietnam at the time, wrote the introduction. "Say the word 'Vietnam' today to most people of a certain age; the image that rises is usually a photograph. An AP photograph."

The book includes 300 images by photographers who worked for the Associated Press during the war years in Vietnam. It gathers some truly amazing photographs by people who put their life on the line to make a record of that horrible conflict. Many of them were motivated by an urgent desire to end the war and stop people's suffering. A related exhibition is at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York through November 26.

In a recent trip to Vietnam, I visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. The museum also hosts a compilation of photographic images from the war, showcasing the work of men and women from across the globe who died or are recorded as missing in Vietnam during this era.

Photographers Tim Page and Horst Faas, who had both been injured in Vietnam, worked for 4 years gathering thousands of photographs by 134 photographers. "Requiem" includes work by Vietnamese photographers on both sides of the conflict as well as American, French, Australian photographers and those from 5 other countries. Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina was published by Random House in 1997.

At the end of "Requiem" is an epilogue placard "Photographs are the images of history rescued from the oblivion of mortality. Long after those who died to take these photographs are gone ... the images they captured will remain to show generations to come the face of the war in Indochina."

Strong claims often accompany Vietnam War photography. Anne Tucker, curator of "War/Photography" on view at Washington DC's Corcoran Gallery  attributes the change in U.S. public perception of the war to three AP photographs. And a remarkable info graphic, "Burning Monk", traces the creation and history of that gripping image by Malcolm Browne. The site highlights the idea that even in a media world overwhelmingly saturated with images, the lasting power of individual photographic images remains.

btw, if you're like me and are wondering how 2013 was chosen as the anniversary date for this complicated never-declared war, check out this interactive timeline managed by the Department of Defense. It marks 1833 as the first contact between the U.S. and Vietnam. But that's 180 years ago. Fifty years would be 1963, when South Vietnam's first President Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been supported by the U.S., was overthrown in a coup and assassinated.

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