'Requiem' exhibit revisits photojournalists who paid the ultimate price in Southeast Asia

'It is impossible to describe to those who do not know what horror means. Horror." - Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

We as a culture are immune to cinematic violence. Often, words culled from a film - even one as powerful as Coppola's magnum opus - are just words. But ask a Vietnam veteran, and he will most likely confirm that the unthinkable atrocities depicted in the film Apocalypse Now

From the exhibit "Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina." The exhibit was organized by Horst Faas and Tim Page in association with the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. Courtesy George Eastman House.
are frighteningly close to the reality soldiers faced overseas on a daily basis - if, that is, they are willing to talk about Vietnam at all. Such psychological detachment is key to survival, and no one understands survival better than a veteran.

"Requiem" is a traveling photo exhibit on display at the Institute of Texan Cultures through May 25, honoring the work of the confirmed 135 photojournalists who lost their lives in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, from 1945-75. Light boxes, large-scale prints, and full-color magazine layouts parallel intimate photos of desiccated camera equipment, broken bodies, and yellowed Army death reports. Each work abets the difficult and dual task of documenting the war and its massive aftershocks, placing the untimely deaths of these 135 journalists within that incomparably apocalyptic context.

The massive exhibit is chronologically grouped, addressing each level of escalation: from internal colonial conflict to all out world war with egalitarian attention. The 1966 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Japananese photographer Kyoichi Sawada hangs next to the achingly beautiful, but relatively unknown work of French-Vietnamese photographer Henri Huet. Notably, the work of slain Western photographers hangs side-by-side with the work of North Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Chinese army and civilian photojournalists.

The work of American photographers Everette Dixie Reese and Robert Cappa, as well as French photographer Jean Peraud, captured both the otherworldly beauty of the Vietnamese countryside and the violent stirrings of colonial unrest, during what has since become known as the French War in Indochina. Images quickly progress from suggestively violent to the all-out mayhem of full-blown combat photography, uncensored and unflinching in their portrayal of the realities of war. Camaraderie, loss, and brutality form a visual cycle interrupted only by numerous placards reminding the viewer that those who captured these images paid for small fragments of celluloid with their lives.

Particularly well documented in the exhibition is the tragic, simultaneous loss of Larry Burrows (UK) in a helicopter crash, along with fellow photographers Huet, Kent Potter (U.S.), Keizaburo Shimamoto (Japan), an unidentified South Vietnamese Army photographer, two army officers, and a four-man crew. The journalists were covering a massive and illegal push by U.S.-backed forces across the Laos border. The helicopter was shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and crashed in the dense Laos jungle in February of 1971. Their bodies were never recovered.

At the time of his death, Burrows was considered the foremost photojournalist of his generation, and a mentor to the multinational batch of youths that surrounded him in Indochina. Next to a photo of Burrows, smiling on the eve of his fateful departure, is a quote from a documentary

9am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday
Through May 25
$5 adults
$3 military & seniors
$2 children age 3-12
Institute of Texan Cultures
801 S. Bowie
on the photographer entitled Beautiful, Beautiful released in 1969: "So often I wonder whether it is my right to capitalize, as I feel so often, on the grief of others. But then I justify, in my own particular thoughts, by feeling that if I can contribute a little to the understanding of what others are going through, there is a reason for doing it."

Some still dispute what we lost in Vietnam. For a few, it was their innocence; for others, the unconditional trust in their government's infallibility. But for countless many, the sacrifice was ultimate and irreversible. American soldiers have just begun their trek across the deserts of Iraq. This fact makes "Requiem"'s message all the more disturbing. With every step through the gallery, the harsh realities of a ground war — the many sobering lessons learned by those who lived and died in Vietnam — are echoed in the haunting eyes of the dead and dying, and in the lenses of their cameras. •

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