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When I went to Vietnam in June of 1969, I was assigned to the 221st Signal Company (Southeast Asia Pictorial Agency) as a First Lieutenant in charge of a photo detachment. Initially, I was stationed at the sprawling military base in Long Binh. I was later stationed in Pleiku and Saigon.
In addition to pictures taken for the government, I took many more of the Vietnamese civilians, particularly children--probably over 1500 images. Recently, I've been reviewing the bulk of this portfolio in an attempt to determine their relevance to the culture and history of the period. My hope is to preserve these photos as documentary material, recording this era in Vietnam's history on CD-ROM in the form of a self-guided multimedia presentation. The theme underlying the portfolio is the effect of the war upon the Vietnamese people and how the war uprooted their lives.
As a photo detachment supervisor in Pleiku (Central Highlands), I was in charge of combat photographers, lab technicians, audio/visual and support personnel. Later in my tour of duty, I was made officer-in-charge of a motion picture news team working for the U.S. Military Command Public Information Headquarters in Saigon and would cover news features for the Department of Defense. Both positions gave me the opportunity to travel freely and extensively throughout Vietnam. Leaving behind the confines of the military bases at Pleiku and Long Binh, I was able to observe and record much of the civilian culture--living conditions, markets, farms, homes, shrines, and people. I frequently visited isolated areas where American advisors were working with Montagnard tribesmen who still practiced ancient farming and crafts.
The open markets of Saigon, Pleiku, and Da Nang were a fertile source of subject matter and provided the opportunity to explore the character of everyday existence in war-torn Vietnam. Returning to my photo detachment laboratory in Pleiku I would work into the night printing and processing the days photographs. Much of my work in Vietnam--those photos which documented the war itself--were forwarded to Washington for archival retention in the Library of Congress as historical record. My personal collection of photographs, however, which focused on the Vietnamese people and their culture was never archived or officially preserved. It is this part of my work that I believe may have cultural and historical significance for the Vietnamese people. I wish to amplify, explore and preserve these photos utilizing the new medium of digital photography which has the potential to make this work more accessible to a broader audience both in this country and Vietnam. As part of the multimedia preservation of this portfolio I wish to collect the spoken commentary of persons living through this period, as well as Vietnamese scholars, to complement and elucidate the photographs. Such a voice over narration will provide additional insights into the impact of the war on the civilian population.
Currently, I am in contact with Vietnamese scholars in this country
who may be able to lead me to documentary materials (both literary
and spoken) that could be used for this purpose. I would also
like to include personal reminiscences from people who have lived
through the war years. Please take a look at these photographs
and, if you like, add your comments to the responses left by others.
If you can place a particular photograph into a broader context
relating it to the social or cultural realities of this time,
please include any such comments (or ramblings).
The pictures are grouped by category, i.e.,
Montagnard Tribesmen /
Military / Vietnamese People /
Protest, et cetera/
Shrines. Thank you
for your help.
Text and photography by E. Kenneth Hoffman ( firstname.lastname@example.org).
Visit Seton Hall University www.shu.edu