Missing Years

September 14, 2012

While writing my last post, it dawned on me that I had skipped almost five years from the time I left Vietnam to where I had written about Berlin.  This astonished me as when I wrote my previous posts, the time from Vietnam to Berlin seemed so easy, a nice tidy journey between time, and a most logical connection from Vietnam to Berlin when I focused on my photographic journey.

Then, last night, I realized I put Vietnam and the following years into a paper bag wrapped box that I stuck somewhere in my mental closet, completely skipped my time in Okinawa (my next duty station from Vietnam), the time I was out of the service from March 1969 to mid-summer 1970, the 15 months I spent in Udorn-Thani, Thailand, the year in Homestead, Florida, and my assignment to Monterey for Russian language school.

This actually took me by surprise and as I began playing with this disconcerting, obvious omission of time and space, this over four year gap in my life, it came to me that the time period from April 1968 through 1972 was a very difficult time for me, that my photography was almost non-existent from the day I left Vietnam until sometime in Monterey.  I took almost no photographs in Okinawa, and, if my memory serves me correctly, while I was out of the service in Albuquerque (my home of record) and in Texas (Dallas and Lubbock), I don’t believe I took a single photograph.

The photographs I took in Vietnam were not of the war correspondent caliber – they were everyday shots of scenes of the compound in Saigon, various people photographs, scenes of the jungle with no real point of reference, different location shots as the unit I was with moved around, and so forth.  In other words, they were nondescript.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting images that have some impact and those particular images recall specific moments in time, moments that had meaning to me.

Going down these dusty, sometimes moldy, time and space trails are not always interesting nor enjoyable.  My time in Vietnam was at any given moment, mundane, spontaneous, long hours, sometimes absolutely terrifying minutes or hours and calm the next, writing letters, listening to someone play a guitar where we all chimed in on occasion, what we would do when we went home, listening to “Good Morning Vietnam” (yes, I really heard that phrase) from the Armed Forces radio announcer, trying to keep up with what was going on “stateside”, trying to reconcile that the man who played the guitar with a deep, wonderful voice to everyone the night before was dead the next day when caught in an ambush while conducting a night patrol.

Everyone had a different philosophy: Some were deeply religious; others skeptics by nature; those whose with a fate driven belief; others with no obvious belief in anything, living day by day.  But everyone I knew all thought that it would always be “the other guy, not me” who bought it, including me.  My personal belief…I was one of the ones who lived day by day with no thoughts of the future.

Today’s post, grim as it may be, had a “cause and effect” impact: it made me understand, realize why I take the photographs I do today.  Vietnam was a grim, grey place; a harsh reality while at the same time, there existed moments of calmness, peace; beautiful countrysides, scenic places; fascinating people; pristine beaches and beautiful sunsets; and moments of incredible, simply incredible, artistic beauty, nature at it’s best in a world of conflict.

Today, I now understand why I focus on the small moments, quiet times, scenic scenes, glorious, spectacular sunsets or sunrises, the rich, complex environment of nature around me, interesting architecture, historical locations.  And, also why I have never really like photographing people over the years – I didn’t want to see their story, to understand who they are, to honor their presence in a world that doesn’t make sense.

For the past few years, however, I’ve been looking at people in a different way.  I see their beauty and wonder what are their lives like, what experiences could they share…I find myself wanting to capture their stories as I should have captured the story of my guitar playing friend, here one day, gone the next.

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