The Soul of Vietnam


Artist Statement by Larry D'Attilio with The Book's Foreword by Joseph L. Galloway

I feel non-compliant with trends, but that is okay with me. At a 2011 lecture I attended at the School of Visual Ats in New york City, three presenters made a statement which strengthened my contrarian thinking. They suggested, “for an artist’s career to do well, the artist statement is more important than the actual work”, though they admitted that they didn’t like this way of thinking. Now, I can write an artist statement too, but I don’t understand the value of the academic language so many artists use. Are they artists or pedagogists? I don’t know, but it seems too often that their statements obfuscate their images. Too bad, I think. From now on, I choose to write my thoughts in plain language, as if I am in a verbal conversation.

Vietnam may seem foreign and strange to we Americans, but I have been humbled by being there and learning from the people. Sure they ask me questions, and as an American I have some answers that are useful to them. But more often, the reverse has been true. Being abroad, what I have learned has helped me understand my culture’s shortcomings and strengths. Some of my own limitations are easy to see now as culturally induced by my American life. I had not noticed that before. In my head, those things I thought and did were normal to all humans around me. Vietnam has taught me that they are not. They are just normal for us, in our ocean-isolated land. I also know, more than ever, that some things American are very noble, particularly the trust we put into our legal system’s independent judiciary and the public’s general acceptance of cultural and ethnic diversity.

Maybe these realizations explain my passion for Vietnam and my idea to express the country from a very personal, rather than documentary, viewpoint.
But I assume you want a little more than what I got out of these experiences. This exhibit comes from me, but I am not the subject, Vietnam is. And it is a stretch to refer to me as a writer. Instead of writing from me, let us hear from a wonderful writer. Joseph Galloway (We Were Soldiers Once….and Young) has written a foreword for my book that will be available in early 2014 and is associated with this project. Let’s hear his thoughts on the “Soul of Vietnam” in these excerpts from the foreword:

“More than three million Americans served in the IndoChina Theater during what we called the Vietnam War, and Vietnamese called the American War. Their views of both the country and the people in the middle of a war had an over-the-shoulder quality. Everyone was either busy prosecuting the war or trying to avoid its worst effects.
We are now nearly four decades distant from the end of that war of our youth; nearly half a century distant from the arrival of the first American combat troops in what was South Vietnam. It is long past time that we looked at both Vietnam the country and the Vietnamese people with different eyes, eyes now cleared of the fog of war.

With a set of new eyes and his cameras, my friend Larry set out at first to capture images of the capital Hanoi and its citizens to mark that ancient city’s 1,000th anniversary of its founding. Slowly, however, as that first journey became the second and third and fourth, D’Attilio expanded his quest to photograph all of Vietnam north of the old and now non-existent dividing line.

From the bustling, busy streets of Hanoi to the strange natural limestone sculptures that dot Ha Long Bay to the remote mountains that ring the frontier town of Dien Bien Phu, Larry has reached out to portray what he sees both with photographs and with his words. His journeys on this quest now total eleven . Eleven trips halfway around the world to capture the light and the beauty of a land that has known only war for a millennia and more; to capture the faces and hands of an industrious and hard-working people whose dream, like ours, is that their children and grandchildren will inherit a better, more peaceful life.

Great changes are afoot in all of Vietnam today. Cranes atop skyscrapers dot the skylines of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). New four-lane highways creep into unlikely places. Old jungle battlegrounds are logged for valuable timber and then bulldozed to prepare for planting rubber tree seedlings and tea bushes. Millions of young Vietnamese have easy access to the Internet and the outside world. The vast majority of Vietnamese alive today have been born since the “American War” ended in 1975. Their knowledge of the war comes from school history books and is just as abbreviated as that young Americans draw from similar entries about the “Vietnam War” in their text books.

Larry D’Attilio’s Vietnam is his own unique view, but one that should be welcomed by all Americans, young and old, veteran or not. Vietnam and the Vietnamese are indelibly written into our history and our legends. They are worth far more than a fleeting glance over the shoulder. Both the land and the people deserve the sharp focus they receive in this exhibit.

–Joseph L. Galloway
War correspondent: 1965-2006
–We Were Soldiers Once…and Young
–Triumph Without Victory: A History of the Persian Gulf War
–We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam


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