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02-12-07, 07:14 AM
Article published Feb 11, 2007
Images of sacrifice
Vietnam War captured in photos taken by those who paid war's ultimate price

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- In a photograph taken Nov. 4, 1965, Dickey Chapelle lies face down in a pool of her own blood as Navy chaplain John Monamara administers the last rites.

Her carotid artery has just been torn open by a land mine while she accompanied U.S. Marines on patrol. In an evac helicopter, somewhere above Chu Lai, Vietnam, the veteran photographer had looked at a crewman and said, "I guess it was bound to happen."

Those were her last words.

Between the height of the French Indochina War in the 1950s and the fall of Phnom Penh and Saigon in 1975, 135 photographers were recorded missing or killed, Chapelle one of them.

"Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina," on display through March 4 at the University of Notre Dame's Snite Museum of Art, examines the work of these war correspondents from all sides of the conflict.

The exhibition is packed with stirring and, at times, haunting imagery, from battlefield portraits and firefights to Life magazine covers and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs.What eerily distinguishes these 200-plus images from other photographic collections of the era is the fate of those who took them. Included among the best works, in many cases, are the last images ever shot by these photographers before they were killed in action.

Perhaps the best examples are photos from the last roll of legendary war correspondent Robert Capa.

His final two images, halfway into the roll, are rather unspectacular shots of soldiers on patrol. Captured in the background is the ridge where he would step on the mine that took his life. The first frame of that black-and-white roll, however, seems disturbingly fortuitous.

A Vietnamese woman, with a child in her arms, slumps over a fresh grave in a military cemetery for French and Vietnamese-French Union soldiers. She is weeping uncontrollably.

Eleven frames later, Capa would become another of the war's dead.The collection began as a conversation. Horst Faas and Tim Page -- photographers who were wounded in the conflict -- were discussing the work of fallen colleagues. That conversation became a list. That list became a quest. Faas and Page gathered thousands of pictures from magazine archives and private collections to honor the missing and the dead. In 1997, those images and the stories of their lives and deaths, were published by Random House. Soon after, the book, also titled "Requiem," became a touring exhibition.

Among the dead are some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. Capa. Larry Burrows. Henri Huet. Kyoichi Sawada. Some, as in the case of a number of Cambodian photographers working for the Western press, were executed. Others, such as Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, simply disappeared in the jungle.

Burrows, as this exhibition so eloquently demonstrates, combined technical excellence with a penchant for capturing the close-up cruelty in the faces of his subjects.

The Jan. 25, 1963, cover of Life shows an expressionless woman about to row a boatload of prisoners roped together at the neck. This image was part of a rare 14-page spread Burrows shot in the Mekong Delta that would set the standard for war coverage.

Another of Burrows' Life covers on display here shows Yankee Papa 13 Crew Chief James Farley with a jammed M-60, shouting to his gunner while two wounded comrades lay at his feet. Another image, which first appeared inside the magazine, shows just how intimate these photographers were with the experience of war. Burrows followed Farley back to the base near Da Nang and captured the same stoic man weeping in a supply shack.A handful of rare photos from the other side of the war, including the haunting image taken by Pham Van Khuong that shows Viet Cong soldiers escorting a group of dejected U.S. prisoners, adds to this show's resonance.

The exhibition, however, would be incomplete without Huet's many photographs.

Perhaps Huet's biting imagery, in part, stems from his family heritage. He was born in Vietnam to a French father and Vietnamese mother, learned photography in the French army, and then spent the rest of his life using those skills to tell Vietnam's story through his Leica M2 and Nikon F.

Included here is the 1966 photograph of a Vietnamese mother and her scared children framed by the legs of a soldier from the U.S. First Cavalry Division. There's the series of medic Thomas Cole who, despite wearing a bloodied bandage on the side of his own face, took care of the injured around him. And the images from War Zone D in 1967: Specialist 5 James E. Callahan tending to an infantryman during an ambush near Saigon, and two infantrymen half submerged in the muck, firing and taking cover behind the poncho-wrapped bodies of three dead soldiers.

Of particular note in that last image is the angle at which Huet took the photograph. While the soldiers ducked for cover, Huet stood behind them to preserve the moment.Huet, perhaps more than any other photographer here, also snapped his peers in action. A 1970 photograph taken near Mimot, Cambodia, shows Burrows, with his camera around his neck, helping GIs carry a wounded soldier to an evacuation helicopter.

Huet also took that photograph of the dying Chapelle lying in a pool of her own blood somewhere near Chu Lai.

Some time later, Huet, Burrows and two other photographers were killed when their South Vietnamese helicopter was shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

That, in the end, is what makes "Requiem" so poignant. It's easy to marvel at the devotion these photographers showed to their craft. It's just as inspiring to bask in the courage and compassion they demonstrated through their work. In the end, however, that awe is tempered by their fate -- deaths, it seems, that were "bound to happen."

Staff Writer Jeremy D. Bonfiglio:
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