Review: Battlefield Lens Photographers of Indochina Wars 1950-1975
For the first time in Singapore, 80 vintage photographs taken during the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are currently on exhibit at the Selegie Arts Centre. The installation entitled “Battlefield Lens Photographers of Indochina Wars 1950-1975”, features the private collection of American-born Vietnam War veteran, Judd Kinne.
Kinne was a United States Marine Corps infantry officer in South Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. After he left the Marine Corps, he went to business school, and eventually moved to Singapore in 1973. Asia Times notes that Kinne started collecting Indochina war photos in 2002, and his collection includes works from legends like Robert Capa, Eddie Adams, Philip Jones Griffiths, Don McCullin, Tim Page, Catherine Leroy, and Kyoichi Sawada. One of the images on display features Kinne in 1968, posing with his command group in a village south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, which divided North and South Vietnam. Most of the photos were taken in locations near where Kinne was stationed or by people he met during the war.
According to reports from CNA Lifestyle, Kinne’s collection was inspired by an encounter with Larry Burrows, a famous British war photographer who Kinne eventually became friends with. The exhibit will also include photos from another friend, American photographer David Douglas Duncan, who has shots of the infamous Battle of the Dien Bien Phu in 1954. “The wars in Indochina over a 30-year timespan had an enormous impact on the history of Southeast Asia and beyond,” Kinne said in a CNA Lifestyle interview. Kinne also notes that the exhibit aims to show the skills and courage of many unsung war photojournalists.
Singaporean photographers like Terence Khoo, Sam Kai Faye, and Charles Chellepah all died chronicling the events of the three-decade long war. Yet, the conflict is becoming forgotten. In an interview with The Peak Magazine, Kinne notes that there are too many young people who know very little about these wars. “For your average Singaporean two generations younger than me, Vietnam is probably a tourist destination,” he said. In many ways he is right, as the country is becoming globally famous for its tourism industry. Expatbets’ article on what to do in Vietnam explains how the country has “emerged as one of the rapidly developing economies in Southeast Asia.” It has become one of Asia’s main tourist hubs, particularly in terms of its art and culture, which is famous for its engraved furniture, ceramics, and silk weaving. Kinne hopes the exhibition will become a catalyst for the younger generation and tourists visiting the country to learn more about Vietnam.
About a dozen rarely seen shots by North Vietnam photographers like Dinh Ngoc Thong and Mai Nam are also included in the exhibit. Apart from educating the youth about the Indochina wars, the exhibit, which is hosted by The Photographic Society of Singapore, and organised by creative agency Phish Communications, also deals with heavy issues like the devastating effects of war on soldiers and civilians.
The exhibit is not the first to dive deep into the political, social, and economic histories and realities. Last year on Backchormeeboy, we featured Vietnamese artist Phan Thao Nguyen when she won the Grand Prize at Signature Art Prize 2018 for her work entitled Tropical Siesta. Her work looked a the struggles of children in rural Vietnam.
The Selegie Arts Centre is a great place for anyone who loves photography. It’s situated in one of the most underrated districts in Singapore, which is teeming with beautiful historic structures and quaint little shops.