March 1, 2002
Rights Donīt Depend on Majority Consensus, Warns Pope
By Margarett Loke
(New York Times) It is one of the most arresting images ever made by a war photographer. A soldier is carried on a stretcher toward medical personnel who are calmly preparing to attend to his injuries. But the operating table, the gowned and masked nurses and surgeon, the stretcher carrier are all standing in water, and the operating room is enclosed in a mosquito-netting tent in the middle of a mangrove swamp. A nurse draws aside the flap of the tent, whose fluttery lines complement the delicate hanging tendrils and other vegetation. Natural light illuminates the table and hits the swirls of water around the approaching medic.
In haunting unreality and beauty, this picture surpasses Robert Capa's 1943 image of British surgeons working shirtless in a church in Sicily. Unlike Capa, who is internationally famous, Vo Anh Khanh is not much known even in his own country, Vietnam. He took the picture in 1970 in a Vietcong haven in the southern Mekong Delta, didn't think much of it and never printed it.
His image is one of more than 100 black-and-white photographs in "Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War From the Other Side" at the International Center of Photography.
The exhibition, a collaboration with the National Geographic Society, offers a rare, comprehensive look at how Vietnamese photographers who found common cause with the Communists recorded the conflict.
Mr. Khanh, now in his early 60's, was one of 30 surviving war photographers whom Doug Niven, the show's curator, tracked down during more than 20 trips to Vietnam. An American news photographer, he began his search after he went to Cambodia in the early 1990's and saw handmade black-and-white postcards of the war.
Like their American counterparts, the Vietnamese photographers worked under harsh conditions - mud, heat, humidity, ever-shifting front lines. But the Vietnamese photojournalists didn't have multiple cameras, unlimited film, a flash or a darkroom. They usually carried one camera and a meager film supply; some worked with big heavy 1940's Kodak press cameras. They created artificial lighting with a hand-held device loaded with gunpowder. And they developed film at night along mountain streams.
"Another Vietnam" and its companion volume, published by National Geographic Books, include the expected propagandistic pictures. Everyone smiling. A Vietcong unit striking a heroic pose. Young women dutifully making hideous booby traps. But an astonishing number of the photojournalists created work that transcend borders and ideology.
Another memorable picture by Mr. Khanh could have been taken by a Capa or a Larry Burrows. Shot in the Mekong Delta swamps in 1972, this delicately surrealistic image shows a group of slender Vietnamese women, in their form-revealing cotton tops and black loose pants, walking single file and barefoot, backs straight, along tree trunks laid across water. But on the women's heads are white cloth coverings with holes for the eyes. They were, says the caption, "activists" who met in the forest "wearing masks to hide their identities from one another in case of capture and interrogation."
During the war, Vietnamese photographers commonly used false names: if their film fell into enemy hands, their real identities would not be known. In 1960 one Le Chau took a picture of "fighting holes." These were large holes punched through the walls of abandoned South Vietnamese houses so that the Vietcong could move through a village without being seen. In this image, a soldier is about to go through one such hole while a soldier ahead of him is near a second one, the jagged outlines of a third in the distance. It eerily echoes a 1933 picture by Henri Cartier-Bresson of boys playing in a rubble- strewn passageway in Seville, framed by the jagged outline of a large hole punched through a wall.
To create panoramic pictures, the photographers took a number of frames in sequence, usually without tripods. One, by Doan Cong Tinh, has the elegiac elegance of a Gustave Le Gray. This 1972 picture gives an eloquent long view of the former French governor's mansion and nearby houses in the ancient citadel of Quang Tri. Surrounded by trees shorn of almost all their branches, the severely damaged houses are inspected by soldiers.
The most stunning panorama is by Mai Loc, who wielded a Rolleiflex portrait camera - a big, ungainly model normally not used for war pictures - as if it were a small Leica. Three frames show Vietcong and farmers in their boats in the swamp called the Plain of Reeds as they point their guns at South Vietnamese government forces. A plume of water rises stormily in one frame. The combatants in the foreground are shown in dark tones while the water, the fragile reeds, the fighters in the distance, the cloud-filled sky are in shades of pale gray.
One photojournalist who used aesthetics as a universal language and who had the widest range and the most consistently superb eye is Le Minh Truong, now in his early 70's. His image of two Vietnamese women hauling in heavy fishing nets is a theatrical mix of dark archway and sinuous lines of ropes contrasted with the lush palm fronds in the background; the women pose as if in a medieval painting.
In one of his 1966 pictures, Communist soldiers move through a dark canyon along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, their path illuminated by great overhead shafts of light. Without the caption, you wouldn't know the soldiers' nationality or where they were. The same can be said of a 1970 image of a Vietcong on a boat in a mangrove swamp decimated by Agent Orange; he could be Everyman in a war- devastated world.
Perhaps the most poignant photograph is the one Mr. Truong took in 1970 of a young woman playing a guitar during a break along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Though she was a member of a team that deactivated delayed-fuse bombs dropped by American planes, she looks as if she would be at home in an American college campus, playing the guitar and protesting the war.
"The teenager was killed the day after this image was made," the caption notes. "There was nothing left," recalls the photographer, "not even flesh. Nothing except pieces of clothing scattered about."
``Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War From the Other Side'' is at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, at 43rd Street, (212)860-1777, through March 17.
by Seth Mydans
(New York Times) Received warmly by the Vietnamese leadership, President Jiang Zemin of China called for good neighborly relations between the Communist nations, who are former enemies. He made the remarks in a live televised speech at Hanoi University, a tradition started two years ago by President Clinton and continued last year by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
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