A surreal and haunting photograph taken in Cambodia in 1970, deep in the mangrove swamps of the Ca Mau Peninsula (this was an actual medical situation, not a publicity setup):
Photograph by Vo Anh Khanh © National Geographic Society
In 2002, it was included in curator Doug Niven’s Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side– the first ever exhibition of Vietnam War images by North Vietnamese photographers, presented at the International Center of Photography.
As a wire service photographer in Cambodia from 1991-96, I worked on occasional assignments in nearby Saigon. There I got to see firsthand images from the “other side.” On the same tree-lined street where American war correspondents had offices during the Vietnam War, grimy street kids now peddled war memorabilia, such as fake U.S. Army dog tags, Zippo lighters, and handmade black-and-white postcards of the conflict. While the images they sold were not very high quality, their existence suggested to me that more photographs must exist. Thus began the adventure of rediscovering lost Vietnamese-made war photographs.
During meetings with various communist officials over endless cups of bitter green tea, doors slowly began to open. Word spread that a young American was trying to collect and print photographers’ war negatives. Soon, everyone wanted to help. Entire archives were opened up, and tables overflowed with catalogues of images, both good and bad. One photographer brought me trash bags of dusty, curling negatives, none of them ever printed before. Another photographer kept his pristine film airtight in an old U.S. ammunition case, packed with roasted rice to absorb the moisture.
Ultimately, I was able to locate thirty surviving war photographers from all corners of Vietnam, as well as thousands of pictures by photographers who had long since died. The living photographers shared their stories with me, and I worked with them to edit and print their old film. From hundreds of such encounters, this exhibition emerged.