Vietnam: Requiem For War Time Photographers


Professor Richard Broinowski

Tim Page and Horst Faas are two photo journalists determined not to allow the Indochina war, which as younger men they covered, to fade into oblivion, or worse, to be misrepresented through sentimental or inaccurate reconstruction.

During the 1990s, they combed through the archives in Hanoi and Western news agencies to find the pictures taken by 135 photographers who had perished between 1945 and 1975 in the war theatre. The list of the dead includes some of the more impressive photographers of the century, impressive either for their technical competence, their individuality or their determination to find and record the actuality of war. They include Everette Dixie Reese, Bernard Fall, Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Claude Arpin-Pont, Kyoichi Sawada, Tea Kim Heang, Pham Van Khuong, Robert Capa, Dana Stone and Sean Flynn.

Page and Faas assembled the best of thousands of frames into an exhibition that has already travelled to many parts of the world, including Vietnam and the United States. In Vietnam especially, it has been received with much attention. Entitled, simply, Requiem, the exhibition follows the course of the war from its French-Vietminh beginnings after the Second World War, through the American commitment from 1961 to 1972, to the eventual wind-down and denouement of hostilities on 30 April 1975 when North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces entered and occupied Saigon.

At least three aspects of the exhibition make it remarkable. First, its visual imagery captures - as other surviving material does not - the brutality and devastation of the war on the civilians and soldiery of both the north and the south. Second, it shows the courage and professional dedication of the photographers. These men and women, unlike many of the print journalists, did not cover the war second-hand via the Five O’Clock Follies of the American military press machine, or from roof top bars in Saigon, but from the field where the fighting and devastation took place.

Third, it represents the war from both sides - through the lenses of North Vietnamese and Vietcong photojournalists, as well as from the cameras of the legions of foreign correspondents sent to cover the war in the South for the western media. Officials in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were particularly cooperative in finding photo material giving their perspective on the war.

The exhibition is presented in five sections which divide the war into appropriate time frames - A Distant War, Escalation, The Quagmire, Last Flight and Final Days. It is accompanied by commentaries from some gifted journalists who witnessed and survived the war, including the Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times correspondent David Halberstam, Peter Arnett from CNN, John Lawrence from CBS, Neil Sheehan, the author of A Bright and Shining Lie, and the correspondents William Touhy, Jon Swain, Pierre Schoendoeffer, Richard Pyle and Tad Bartimus.

Symbolising, perhaps, the tokenism of the Australian military commitment to the Vietnam War, Australian photographers and correspondents were not exactly thick on the ground during the conflict, and the Australian media were content to take mainly syndicated material from international sources. Consequently there is only one Australian photo journalist represented in the Exhibition, Alan Hirons, a 29 year old free-lancer whose clients included The Sunday Observer, and who disappeared with an American and Cambodian colleague in Cambodia on 25 April 1972. The famous photographer and cinematographer Neil Davis is not included because he survived the war, and died while filming a tragically inconsequential Army coup in Bangkok in the 1980s.

A loose syndicate of interested Australians with connections to the War are working to bring Requiem to Australia. If they succeed, public interest can be expected to be lively. It never hurts to be shown what really happened a mere quarter of a century ago, and how Vietnam has staged an astonishing recovery since the devastation.

WATCHPOINT: A new generation, largely ignorant of the Vietnam war, may be misled by current reinterpretations of it as an American victory.


About our company:

AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.

Go to top