The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

March/April 2004
FEATURE
   
 

Bound by the Beauty

BY JEAN CLAUDE GUILLEBAUD
   
  GILLES CARON, "173RD AIRBORNE, HILL 875, A SHAU VALLEY, 1967"
GILLES CARON

How could we communicate that? Up against this light and shade in the jungle photographed by Gilles Caron, the soldiers' shadows seem petrified by the rays of light. In this predictable close edge we find a hint of what attached us to Vietnam.

We were fascinated less with the war than with beauty.

We never look at these photographs without thinking about it. In the medium of black and white and the sensitivity of the framing we appear to see, as do these soldiers of the 173rd Airborne, some of the moving Vietnamese "thread." It starts just behind the trees, we are sure.

A thread? Oh, yes! The infinity of the rice paddies framed by cumulus-spotted mountains. Their meticulous division into bee cells which, inch by inch, disciplined earth and water as far as the horizon. This grid of clay embankments where women toddle along, shoulders bent under the weight of balancing pole. Gestures, rhythms. The irrigation buckets held by two men facing each other, swinging in cadence at the extremity of a rope. The splashing made by harnessed water buffalo immersed in water.

Other water buffalomonstrous clay statues shelled with dry mudfollow children leading them by the nostrils. Or they squat on their backbones like Hindu mahout.

A flotilla of ducks sails over rivers and ponds.

In Vietnam, whether on the road or in the jungle, soldiers sometimes came so close to houses that they stumbled onto the intimacy of family life: mud walls, straw huts under the watch of a barefoot grandmother, small yards with dozing oxen under latanier palms.

Women raised up, a hand on the hip throwing back their conical hats on the nape of the neck. The gesture, beautiful. This archaic and pacified universe repeats itself for miles without beginning or ending. Only the light organizes its changing revolutions, scintillant intervals or else, as in this photograph, a stroboscopic alternation of sun and night. It wasand always isthis indestructible Vietnamese identity that endures; the substance escaping the storm, the reserve for the tomorrows of history.


Jean Claude Guillebaud has been war correspondent for Le Monde for three decades He has traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet republics, and is the author of 30 books, including Return To Vietnam (1994).

Gilles Caron covered the Battle of Dak To for the French news organization, APIS, in 1967. In 1970, while in Cambodia, he disappeared near Phnom Penh. He was 30 years old.

Under Fire: Images from Vietnam, is a multimedia project that sells museum-quality prints of exclusive images of the Vietnam War by top war photographers at www.pieceuniquegallery.com

 

   

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