A Vietnam veteran shares his store of images.
Burchik’s (Compass and Camera, 2014) new photography book is a sort of lush appendix to his debut work. In that volume, the author told the stories of his tour of war-ravaged Vietnam as a member of the 18th Infantry Brigade of the Army’s 1st Division. In this new book, he expands on that original story with a thick sheaf of photographs, all of them his own, all snapped during his own tour as a forward observer in 1968-69. There are many pages of village life in the south, with farmers “trying to survive in a dangerous environment.” The poses are often deceptively pacific: a peasant woman grazes her goats on a trail along a river; a small girl carries water buckets dangling from a bindle. “They seemed to make it a game,” he writes of local children rummaging through Army refuse, “as they scavenged to rescue valuable items among the things we discarded.” The section called “Weapons” features catalog-quality snaps of M-1s, M-29s, M-60s, and noncombat explosions. The section on air transport is extensive but by its nature limited: photos of airborne vehicles taken from the ground will inevitably include no contextualizing scenery. Among the most absorbing of the book’s 16 sections (they’re about six pages each) is the one devoted to servicemen fording one of the “four or five rivers each day” that many patrols were required to cross. No matter how long the reader looks, photos of Army troops conducting the everyday business of warfare—transporting arms, making phone calls, smoking on break—never quite seem less than absurd when those soldiers are simultaneously submerged up to their shoulders in muddy sluice. These are good quality snaps— several of professional grade, and well-reproduced—but their account of Burchik’s war is necessarily partial. He is not a professional journalist, and while it would have been derelict of him to photograph exchanges of gunfire or masses of casualties, without such incidents the details of the war readers are provided reflect a limited scope. America lost more than 58,000 young men and the Vietnamese lost more than 200,000. The handful of leg wounds in this collection fails to do that number justice. That said, readers already familiar with the war’s history, controversies, and body count will find much to interest and beguile them in this collection.
Mostly peaceful snapshots of a war in progress in the 1960s.