My War: Wartime Photographs by Vietnam Veterans
Curated by Marissa Roth with June Berg
In June of 2014, Marissa Roth visited The Highground Veterans Memorial Park in Neillsville, Wisconsin, for the opening of her exhibition about women who survived war, One Person Crying: Women and War, which was shown for three months. While she was there, the topic of personal Vietnam veteran’s photographs came up while talking with June Berg Learning Center Coordinator, who for the past couple years had been converting these images to a digital format for the veterans. This sparked an idea and inspired them to curate and create an exhibition of these personal photographs, contributed by numerous veterans. Marissa, June and The Highground began a two and a half year journey to complete the MY WAR exhibition.
We have all seen the iconic Vietnam War photographs by noted photojournalists, such as Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl” and Eddie Adams’ “Saigon Execution.” These and countless other images appeared in newspapers and magazines across America throughout the war, impacting both governmental policy and public opinion.
What of pictures taken from the inside looking out? Some servicemen in Vietnam made pictures when they had time. Those lucky enough to afford both a camera and film used their tools with visual acuity, and, in many cases, a high degree of skill. The camera enabled them to create a parallel war experience where they had a modicum of control by choosing what to photograph.
Many of the photographs in this exhibition capture the in-between moments. In some cases, in between a friend’s life and death, in between bombing runs or ground offensives, in between here and there, on the road, in wakeful waiting, worrying and hoping, caught in the tedium of teamwork and down moments while ticking away time.
Some of these images appear to be simplistic or even mundane, but it is precisely in that pureness of vision, that we see the definition of what it’s like fighting in a war. There are many hours, days, and weeks passed in boredom and emptiness, in waiting for a mission or a tour of duty to end. Everything from the viewing of a scratchy black and white TV image from America to the longing for a sensual embrace filled gaps and became fodder for the camera.
The images featured in this exhibition exemplify all of the photographs taken by armed amateurs during the Vietnam War. These are personal artifacts that provide literal snapshots of their transient time and experiences, and serve as complicated emotional mementos. They are also an important record, giving history another window through which to view this war.
The Highghground hopes that the viewers will empathize with these veterans and will come away with a better understanding of the war through these personal photographs. This exhibition is picking up notice form all around the country and world. The New York Times, Accent Magazine and the National Morning shows have all done stories on MY WAR. This goes to show just how poignant, powerful and important this alternate view of the Vietnam War truly is.
The exhibition debuted at The Highground August-October 2016. It is now a traveling exhibition. For more information on how to book MY WAR for your venue, please contact June at 715-743-4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MY WAR was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. “Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”