You don't take a photograph...

You ask quietly to borrow it. 

                            -anonymous photographer                                  

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Pictures from Vietnam

How we remember the things we try to forget.

My photographs are of strangers. They are the monks, soldiers, farmers, artists and students I encountered when I traveled across the battlefields south of the old Vietnam DMZ. These Vietnamese were willing to be photographed with pictures of American Marines who didn’t come home. Their participation allowed me to get close to people living there now, if only for a photo moment. These encounters are a collaboration between past and present.

The Marine portraits were gathered from names on the Wall in Washington DC. These men lost their lives south of the DMZ, the area designated the I (eye) Corps during the war. Records list 58,318 names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall; little is really known about them. The Vietnamese lost 2-3 million people in the war; even less is known about them.

The portraits reveal very young men, filled with life and proud to wear the uniform. They were all volunteers, with many different reasons to join. A supposed fast track to manhood was one of them. Too many of the American casualties were only 18 and 19 years old. My motivation for this project was shaped by my own experiences and memories as a 19 year old with the 7th Marines in the I Corps.

Vietnam has seen rapid development in the last 25 years, and yet many of the combat sites remain unchanged, hauntingly familiar. Reminders of the war can be found everywhere. Ancient walls are pocked with bullet holes, bomb craters are next to temples, helicopters and tanks are used as public sculpture in parks.

A photograph won’t change over time, but our memory will. Memories are personal: living, evolving emotions. They can be lost, modified or replaced over the years. These photos may help us remember those who didn’t return and better understand the people that remain. How do we remember the things we try to forget?

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