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Grim realities of war: Rare photo exhibit featuring a Singaporean's collection

A showcase of images taken during the Indochina Wars from the 50s to the 70s will be on display for the first time in Singapore.

Grim realities of war: Rare photo exhibit featuring a Singaporean's collection

Explosive Ordnance Disposal disposing dud bombs at Tham Me Pass, Route 128, Laos, in 1971. (Photo: Vuong Khanh Hong)

When it comes to the Vietnam War, the reference point for many Singaporeans would probably through movies or books. But how about seeing it through the lens of photographers who were there in the thick of the action – often risking their own lives?​​​​​​​Launch of an F8 Crusader plane from the USS Midway in 1966. (Photo: Tim Page)

An exhibition, titled Battlefield Lens Photographers of Indochina Wars 1950-1975, will be featuring, for the first time in Singapore, 80 vintage photographs taken during the heat of the three-decade war in the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

US Marines landing on Red Beach in Danang in 1965. (Photo: Tim Page)

Co-organised by the Photographic Society of Singapore, it runs from Mar 23 to Apr 10 at Selegie Arts Centre.

The photographs come from the collection of Judd Kinne, an American-turned-Singaporean who witnessed the Vietnam War first-hand as a US Marine Corps infantry officer from 1967 to 1969. Kinne had been in Singapore since 1973 and acquired citizenship in 2010.

"The wars in Indochina over a 30-year timespan had an enormous impact on the history of Southeast Asia and beyond," Kinne told CNA Lifestyle. 

"The photographs in the exhibition chronicle these events and display the enormous skills and courage of many war photojournalists covering the conflicts who shot their pictures alongside the soldiers fighting on all sides with many killed , including three Singaporean photographers; Terence Khoo, Sam Kai Faye and Charles Chellepah."

In 1966, photographer Chellapah Canagaratnam died after stepping on a mine in what was then Saigon, while in 1972, photojournalist Terry Khoo and his colleague Sam Kai Faye were killed in an ambush by North Vietnamese.

Reaching Out, 1966. (Photo: Larry Burrows Collection)

His collection was sparked by an encounter with one of the world’s most famous war photographers, British Larry Burrows, who was on assignment for Life magazine when Kinne was in his last year in South Vietnam. Kinne would also later strike up a friendship with another famous photographer, American David Douglas Duncan.

A widow and a killed-in-action husband evacuated to Quang Ngai airstrip in 1965. (Photo: Tim Page)

The photos of both Duncan and Burrows, as well as other famous war photographers will be on exhibit. These will look at the First Indochina War between the French and the Vietnamese – including the infamous Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which divided Vietnam into North and South.

Vietminh waving a flag as they march across Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi in 1954. (Photo: Anonymous)

The Vietnam War – or the American War, depending on who’s telling it – is also featured. Regarded as the first and only war without censorship, it was a time when experienced and young photographers flew down and covered the conflict, sometimes in the thick of the action.

A US Marine throwing a hand grenade in Hue, Vietnam, in 1968. (Photo: Don McCullin/Hamiltons Gallery, London)

But the exhibition isn’t only featuring photos from Western photographers – it will also include those by photographers from the North Vietnamese Army, offering an alternative perspective of the wars.

North Vietnam's Pioneer Youth volunteers leaving Hanoi for the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1971. (Photo: Tran Cu)

Battlefield Lens Photographers of Indochina Wars 1950-1975 runs from Mar 23 to Apr 10 at Selegie Arts Centre. Free admission.

Source: CNA/mm