Jeffrey A. Wolin

Jefferey A. Wolin

Work from the series From All Sides: American and Vietnamese War Veterans.
“I initially began photographing and conducting videotape interviews of Vietnam War veterans in 1992 during my year as a Guggenheim Fellow. I had to set the project aside to complete a book and exhibition of portraits of Holocaust survivors which premiered at the International Center of Photography in 1997 and traveled to museums in the US and Europe, including the Art Institute of Chicago. In early 2003, I picked up where I had left off with the Vietnam veteran project. The war in Iraq likely influenced my decision to resume this work, which focuses on the effects of war on individuals with the passage of time.
The war in Vietnam was a painful and divisive issue for my generation. President Nixon did away with college deferments and every male over 18 was eligible for the draft. I was luckier than many of my friends and drew a high enough number in the draft lottery that I did not have to ponder the difficult moral question of whether or not to serve in Vietnam. Anti-war protests began to turn violent in places like Kent State University as the country was being torn apart at the seams. One can find parallels with the situation in Iraq today and it is not coincidental that many of the veterans I worked with brought up Iraq with sadness and dread. It is clear that the profound issues raised by Vietnam in our culture are in need of further exploration and discussion.
From the Iliad onward, war has been a major theme in art and literature. With my Holocaust portraits and now with the portraits of Vietnam Veterans, my photograph/text pieces add to our understanding of how the trauma of war affects both combatants and civilians caught in the crossfire. Many important issues of war and peace emerge in the war stories and in the portraits themselves. Many veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some still wear their Vietnam War medals. Some fight for veterans’ medical issues or make art or write books about their experiences. Others have found ways to put their experiences behind them. All were deeply and permanently affected by the war.
In late 2005, “Inconvenient Stories: Vietnam War Portraits” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. It contained 50 portraits and stories of Vietnam vets. The book, based upon the exhibition, was published last year by Umbrage Editions of New York. Now that the book is out, MoCP is traveling the show to museums in the US and Europe beginning last summer at IU Art Museum.
I have expanded the work to include not just American veterans of the war but Vietnamese who fought for the South Vietnamese government and later fled to the US ARVN veterans (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) in Chicago, Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. I have photographed Montagnards (the indigenous Vietnamese people who lived in the Central Highlands) who fought alongside US Army Special Forces now living in rural North Carolina. It is estimated that there are a million Vietnamese living in the US.
I went to Vietnam for the first time in December 2007 to photograph and interview Vietnamese Veterans of the American War (as it is called in Vietnam and to distinguish it from the French War, the Japanese War, etc.), both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars who fought against us. The faces I have photographed and the stories I have heard are amazing and, not surprisingly, reveal a very different picture of the war than one hears from the American vets.”

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