MY WAR: Wartime Photographs by Vietnam Veterans
The San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA) presents a visually arresting and powerful first-person history of pictures taken from the inside looking out- April 5 to June 3, 2019.
The exhibition showcases photographs, poems, and journal entries by twenty-five Vietnam veterans from around the US. Most of the material was previously kept hidden away, even from family and friends. Many veterans destroyed their photographs taken during the war in order to purge painful memories and close a visceral door to the past.
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 – simple scenes evoking memories of home, gestures of lighthearted camaraderie, and the endless protocol and efficiency of war.
Taking pictures became a way to engage and remember local strangers. The camera also helped put the soldiers’ war experience into context, such as their understanding of the implications of an F-100 Super Sabre flying off into the dawn sky.
Many of the photographs in “MY WAR” 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.
The images and writings in this exhibition exemplify all 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. Time-lapsed reflections about the war have become central themes expressed in photographs, poetry and journal entries that candidly recorded “I was there”.
“MY WAR” presents very personal perspectives on the Vietnam War. Veterans share their photographs and their stories in hopes that viewers see a different side of the war. Different from the famous media documentary photographs, such as Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl”, and Eddie Adams’ “Saigon Execution”, which impacted both governmental policy and public opinion. The change in public opinion created a very hostile return home for many Vietnam veterans.
Reaching out to the island community, the museum’s North Gallery will display photos, writings and artifacts by San Juan County Vietnam veterans, with curatorial input by local veterans groups and individuals. The title for this exhibition is A War Never Ends. This gives recognition to their actual wartime experiences and honors the men and women who carry the scars and memories of that time.
San Juan Islands Museum of Art, 540 Spring Street, Friday Harbor