The Oblivion of Our Mortality

“Photographs are the images of history rescued from the oblivion of mortality.”
-Neil Sheehan

A few days ago we ventured into the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City where we could see upclose military armorments, propaganda, news bulletins and photography from around the world.

Upstairs on the top floor was an exhibit entitled “Requiem,”containing images captured by some of the world’s most daring photographers.

The exhibit was extraordinary. The selection of images chosen by Tim Page, an American photojournalist, told a story that penetrated your psyche. With my obvious love for conflict photojournalism aside, the collection appealed to me for presenting the ups and downs for everyone involved in the war.

The photographs each told stories of the love, joy, rage, grief and mourning found deep inside the hearts of the many involved. Some faces I saw went on to lead fulfilling lives in both Vietnam and the U.S. Other faces would not take another breath a few days past the moment of exposure. Their eyes stare through the frame meeting the gaze of the observer whom inches by. A haunting feeling floats in the air, reminding us of our own mortality.

Stepping back from a single frame, the collection itself speaks a very different story. Together the images allow the viewer a glimpse of the challenges these photographers faced. After beatings and the hours spent to repair their smashed cameras, these photographers repeatedly marched off to document the war in action.

How does a war photographer simply stand back and capture an image of gruesome struggle? How does he or she not lend a hand? Maybe that person knows the images in the camera will allow the rest of the world to examine the hardships of war.

“…and 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 I can contribute a little to the understanding of what others are going through; then there is a reason for doing it”
-Larry Burrows, an English photographer who was shot down in Laos.

Many did not quite understand the conflict in Vietnam until these images circulated on the covers of magazines. At one time these images emphatically announced, while today they serve as a reminder.

We as a people tend to move day to day ready to tackle the next project. Our attention is constantly pulled in every direction as time pushes us forward faster. Each photo of ours that we come across in the storm of daily life serves as a reminder of the moments we chose to hold on to. A photo brings me right back to the day I ventured into a foreign landscape or reacquaints me with the feelings I held while I stood in front of or behind the lens. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I can use one of my photos to successfully share my thoughts with another.

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One thought on “The Oblivion of Our Mortality

  1. Hannah says:

    This gives me chills.. so beautifully written. I can’t wait to see all of your photos.

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