Other Streets by Mark F. Erickson

518eiyjheql._sx384_bo1204203200_

Born in Saigon in 1972, Mark Erickson was evacuated as part of Operation Babylift in April 1975 and adopted by an American family. He returned to Vietnam in 1993 to photograph the country of his birth that he hardly knew.

The result, Other Streets (194 pp. $19.99, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is both a photographic achievement and a cautionary tale about self-publishing. Erickson graduated from Harvard with a keen understanding of Seventies street photography personified by Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. His photos are black and white with the characteristic black border that results from a filed film carrier.

“This book is not about the war or famous people or infamous places,” Erickson writes in the preface. “Instead, it is about the beauty that I found in ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary places.” After “carrying this film around for over a quarter of a century,” he says, he put together his book.

It is a fine documentation of Vietnam at a particular time—long after the war concluded but before the economy lurched into overdrive.  Mark Erickson lovingly depicts men and some women working and relaxing in a small and still-simple country. Many of the images are quite striking and one gets the feeling that his subjects were as interested in him as Erickson was in them.

74506615_10157295367332605_5604621438662213632_n

Mark Erickson

Erickson is the book’s photographer, its author, its designer, and its publisher. This may suggest the book’s problem. It includes 90 duotones. A sharper, better presentation would have pared them down to perhaps 75.

The reproductions in the paperback version are not very good. This makes the photos overly dependent on the captions and the book easy to dismiss. That’s a shame because this volume contains some lovely photographs full of hope and a wistful longing.

A hardcover version of the book (with better-quality images) is available at the author’s website, markferickson.com

The e-book version (on Kindle) is available on line at this page on amazon.com

–Michael Keating

 

 

 

 

Lost in Vietnam by Chuck Forsman

 

user1557425231

Back in the 1950s the Swiss photographer Robert Frank photographed the United States. Frenetically racing back and forth across America’s highways, he amassed a vast collection of photographs—stark and unyielding images seen through a foreigner’s trained eye. He was sympathetic but detached. His photos shocked by their suddenness and how the moment stood for the eternal. His seminal book was The Americans.

In Lost in Vietnam (George F Thompson Publishing/Casemate, 192 pp., $45) Chuck Forsman, a University of Colorado Professor of Art Emeritus, has done a similar thing in Vietnam—albeit traveling by motorbike. Like Frank, he has eschewed the monumental landscapes and the historical documentation. There aren’t any grand temples or grandiose French public buildings, although Vietnam’s long history whispers in every one of the book’s 112 images.

And perhaps surprisingly for a Vietnam War veteran who is also an accomplished photographer and painter, there’s little indication of the country’s wartime past. Forsman’s images are crammed with people, but there are no celebrities or politicians—just folks going about living their lives.

In Forsman’s book Vietnamese live and work and play and work some more. They’re tourists and brides and cooks and laborers and fishmongers. Bicyclists wend their way through monsoon-drenched city streets and boys play soccer in a field shared with water buffalo. Everywhere life is hard, and everywhere life is beautiful—and full of color and light.

Forsman’s work doesn’t have the gritty rawness of Frank’s grainy black-and-white images. Forsman also has been nurtured by “the decisive moment,” art photography, fashion photography, and travel photography. And, of course, it’s all in color.

But mostly Forsman’s work is remarkable for its curiosity and its respect for the people and culture of Vietnam. With each carefully composed image, he asks, “What’s this?” Or at least says, “Look here!”

p_6

This is a remarkable book and a remarkable documentation of the lives and cultures of the Vietnamese people. The photos are preceded by a heartfelt and loving introduction by Le Ly Hayslip (When Heaven and Earth Changed Places) about Mẹ Vietnam—Mother Vietnam, its significance to the Vietnamese, as well as its history and continuing fascination.

Forsman’s website is chuckforsman.com

–Michael Keating

8.l.muineboats2cmuine2c2000

 

Vietnam Photographs from North Carolina Veterans by Martin Tucker

There are two kinds of photo searches. One is a focused, narrow pursuit of a particular subject or time. The other is more meandering, more casual, and the results are more often than not delightful surprises.

Vietnam Photographs from North Carolina Veterans: The Memories They Brought Home (The History Press, 192 pp. $26.99, paper; $12.99, Kindle) is an example of the latter. While teaching photography at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Navy veteran (1967-69) Martin Tucker conceived the idea of soliciting negatives from area Vietnam War veterans for students to use to practice their darkroom-printing skills. As side benefits, veterans would receive high-quality prints; the students, a history lesson.

The project both failed and succeeded beyond Tucker’s dreams. Most of the veterans didn’t have negatives; they had prints. Many had been stored away for decades. As word got out and Tucker’s benevolent intentions were confirmed, though, images started coming in. Soon there were thousands—all of which needed to be carefully scanned and cataloged.

Recognizing the significance of the collection he had inadvertently amassed, Tucker edited the images down to a manageable number. Then he printed and framed them, and exhibited the collection at the Sawtooth School. The veterans were invited to the exhibit, and their reactions to their images recorded. They became the captions for the photos in the book. The exhibit toured the country for two years and is now permanently housed at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.

The book does not attempt a narrative. It simply presents photographs taken by young troops of a very novel world they had fallen into. Sometimes facing images repeat themes or concerns; more often, they don’t. There are photos of Vietnamese people and others of the countryside. But mostly these are photos of the young men themselves navigating a strange, enticing, and very dangerous terrain.

The book does not contain photos of combat or lurid depictions of the war. Nonetheless, the war lurks behind every image. The book shows the things that the young men of North Carolina saw during their tours: The way they lived, the guys they hung out with, and the everyday experiences they shared. At their best, these are the clear-eyed, optimistic, and ever-curious images of American young men.

Mike Callahan, at the end of a Vietnam photo album he assembled for his daughter, wrote: “For sure, I did other things, some tedious, some terrible. This accounting is what I choose to remember and it is how I would like to be remembered.”

Callahan’s remarks, which conclude this volume, could speak for the entire book.

–Michael Keating

Shooting Vietnam Dan Brookes & Bob Hillerby

91vxztbtgwl

Network television captured the lightning and thunder of the Vietnam War and gave a new dimension to war reporting. Same-day combat action appeared on evening news programs as correspondents presented graphic footage of death and destruction in color. In comparison, Americans at home saw World War II and the Korean War mainly through black-and-white still photographs, primarily in the widely read weekly Life magazine.

Shooting Vietnam: The War by Its Military Photographers (Pen & Sword, 251 pp.; $32.95, hardcover; $15.99, Kindle) by Dan Brookes and Bob Hillerby recreates the 1966-67 world of black-and-white news photography, along with accounts of the lives of military combat photographers in the Vietnam War. Both authors served with the 69th Signal Battalion.

Bob Hillery fills the first half of the book by explaining how some in-country photographers were really infantrymen with cameras. He took part in more than a hundred air assault missions with the 1st Cavalry Division and says, “I’d come to think of the danger, fear and adrenaline rush as being normal and couldn’t understand why some of the shooters tried to avoid going to the field.”

Attached to the 1st Cav’s B Troop, 1/9th, he describes working side-by-side with American soldiers at their best. The unit’s nickname was “The Headhunters,” and it was considered “the Cav of the Cav,” he says.

Dan Brookes then describes the jobs of behind-the-line photographers stationed at Tan Son Nhut and Cam Ranh Bay. Certain to be drafted, he enlisted to get a Lab Technician assignment, which he calls “a million dollar experience (that I wouldn’t give a nickel to do over).”

Brookes and his fellow “lab rats” developed and printed film and produced slides for highly classified briefings. Working regularly scheduled eight-hour shifts, they had free time to explore Saigon and its environs and photograph people and places. Occasionally, they manned the base perimeter when the VC attacked nearby—but they did not experience combat.

Separated by three years, the older Hillerby faced the war like a half-mad avenger. Brookes, on the other hand, wandered through the war zone partaking in coming-of-age experiences. Their slight age difference clearly reflects the distinctive moods of the time.

The book wraps up with two thought-provoking articles. Brookes revisits the My Lai massacre to discuss the responsibilities of photographers who encounter and record these kinds of dire events. Tony Swindell confirms Bob Hillerby’s account of the grunt-like existence of combat photographers, a situation that was not fully evident to Swindell until he found himself continually under fire in the hellhole of LZ Bravo near Duc Pho during 1968-69.

soldiersvietnamwarfeat

Army photogs CPT Roger B. Hawkins, SFC Harry Breedlove, & Spec5 Ken Powell

Swindell offers a passage that, to me, clearly summarizes a grunt’s existence: “I used to lay on top of our bunker and look into space, wondering if aliens were watching us. If so, they probably figured we were packs of violent apes and turned their attention elsewhere.”

His spellbinding stories and photographs are the best part of the book. They raised question after question in my mind. His analyses of the Pacification and Phoenix programs thoroughly exemplify the misdirection and futility of the war.

Shooting Vietnam‘s importance lies in its examination and explanations of duties about which I had limited knowledge. I suspect many readers will feel the same.

The book is enlightening.

—Henry Zeybel

 

Unfortunate Sons by Joe Tyson, Sr.

The subtitle of Joe Tyson, Sr.’s Unfortunate Sons: The Beginning of Marine Corps Tanks in the Vietnam War and How I Survived Vietnam as a Marine Tanker (Friesen Press, 552 pp., $31.49, hardcover; $27.49, paper; $6.99, e book) covers the seventeen months in 1965 and 1966 that Tyson served as a young Marine tanker with B Co. in the 3rd Tank Battalion. In his book, Tyson describes the daily routines of patrols and combat situations. The story unfolds from his “internal foot-locker” of memories, as Tyson puts it.

Before he went to Vietnam, Tyson witnessed a mid-air helicopter collision that resulted in nine deaths and was on board a C-130 that made a rough landing in a blizzard and ended up sideways in a cornfield. He had been in the Marines for nearly two years when he volunteered for duty in Okinawa, “the Party Capital of the Marine Corps,” as Tyson puts it.

When Tyson arrived in Da Nang in March 1965, his unit was among some of the first tanks to deploy in the Vietnam War. His tank company operated around Marble Mountain in support of the 9th Marine Regiment.

Tyson and the members of his platoon had their time in-country involuntarily extended twice. All that time, he points out, they never saw a USO show or received any R&R on China Beach.

For the first five months the tankers were not involved in much action. But then things became more serious, including regular mortar attacks. When that happened, Tyson says, routine daily inspections ended and everyone began carrying loaded weapons.

The men seemed to spend most of their time battling heat, bugs, and snakes, but also had to be constantly on alert for anti-tank mines and grenades tossed at them.

Tyson carried with him a reputation for always saying what he was thinking. That led to a few run-ins with officers, usually lieutenants. He points out several times how decisions in Vietnam often were more trustworthy when they were made by someone with experience in-country, regardless of rank.

His time consisted of conducting sweeps with infantry, some company-sized and some with just a few squads. Some days there would be no enemy contact, other days a lot.

Joe Tyson, Sr.

As the months dragged on, Tyson and many of his fellow Marines become bitter over how the war was being fought, mainly because they felt that nothing was being accomplished. Looking back, he has nothing positive to say about members of the peace movement back home.

Tyson uses a lot of detail, especially in describing the firing of tank weapons, which becomes pretty repetitive by the end of the book, although that could be his point.

The book is filled with much reconstructed dialogue, Tyson’s way of pulling the reader into his story.

Dozens of photographs are spread throughout the book.

—Bill McCloud

Shooting War by Anthony Feinstein

Anthony Feinstein’s Shooting War: 18 Profiles of Conflict Photographers (Glitterati Editions, 224 pp., $50) isn’t a photo book. It’s about war photographers; each one’s profile usually is accompanied by a single photo. Despite the striking Vietnam War image on the cover, anyone expecting the book to center around that conflict will be disappointed. Only two profiles are about photographers who covered that war. Just one of the profiled photographers—Chim Seymour—worked in World War II.

Conflicts have continued since 1975, and the men and women profiled here—several born after the conclusion of the Vietnam War—courageously documented fighting in such places as Serbia, the Central Africa Republic, South Africa, Libya, and Israel. Feinstein interviewed each photographer (or friends or relatives in the cases of Alexandra Boulat and Tim Hetherington, both of whom died in the conflicts they covered), then wrote individual essays describing their work, their motivations, the personal cost of their occupations, and what they witnessed.

Don McCullin has made a life’s work of covering conflict, including the Vietnam War. He was there at Hue during Tet ‘68, documenting some of the worst of the fighting. His stunning image of a battled-fatigued American Marine in Hue graces the cover of the book. Feinstein—a University of Toronto psychiatry professor who won a Peabody for his documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat—considers McCullin’s “intoxicating allure of war itself,” and compares his work to Goya’s etchings, The Disasters of War, which depicted Napoleon’s occupation of Spain.

“The name Tim Page is synonymous with the Vietnam War,” Feinstein writes. Page’s up-close images of that war are well known, as is his delight in working alongside the troops. Despite serious head injuries and obvious PTSD, Page recalls the war Vietnam with awe:

“What a great place to have a war,” he told Feinstein. “Good-looking women, great food, beaches, and the best dope.”

—Michael Keating

Thank You For Your Service: Battling PTSD by Richard Baker

51rz51sbebl._sx331_bo1204203200_

Richard Baker served with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division Band in Vietnam from 1966-67. He and I were in Vietnam at exactly the same time, but we did very different things. He didn’t spend much time playing in the band, but learned how to fight a war he knew nothing about. He was wounded twice and has battled PTSD since he came home. Thank You for Your Service: Battling PTSD (387 pp. $15, paper; $3.99, Kindle) is about that battle and it is a very interesting one.

I didn’t expect the book to be about boxing, but that is what it largely turned out to be. It’s also about suicide, music, nightmares, and sex.

Baker is tempted to tell the Vietnamese, he writes, that he was “happy to be involved in killing over a million people from a 3rd world country who wanted the freedom to govern their own country and to help save our democracy and way of life by keeping those vicious, evil, forces from rowing across the Pacific to sling a few arrows at the West Coast. Had I not gone, I would have been sent to prison.  Such is the life in an American democracy.”

The above paragraph is a fair example of what Baker has to say in this book. He is careless with punctuation, but careful with ideas. This is a beautiful book, filled with poetry and philosophy and should be read by everyone who plans to enter the military. The book is a warning and a rant about America and how we have treated the rest of the world.

I enjoyed every page of this book, just as I enjoyed the more than a dozen other books of Baker’s that I have read that relate the American war in Vietnam. Richard Baker has written more than two dozen books, including Shellburst Pond, Janus Rising, Shattered Visage, Feast of Epiphany, Gecko, Smoke Tales, The Last Wire, The Flag, The Last Round, Siege at Dien Bien Phu and Cow Bang.

He starts off this latest book with a short essay on how boxing and war relate. Boxers and soldiers often share a common social status, he notes. They come from the middle to lower classes and occasionally constitute the bottom stratus. Food for thought.

Buy this book and Richard Baker’s other books. You will have invested your money well.

—David Willson