In June 2005, while in Vietnam, Harrell Fletcher visited the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The experience so affected him that he returned several times, eventually photographing every image and caption in the museum. These photographs became “The American War,” Fletcher’s ad-hoc re-presentation of the museum material he had encountered in Vietnam.
As a reproduction of another exhibition, “The American War” raises issues of originality, of context, and of cultural exchange. In a conversation with artist Michael Rakowitz, Fletcher described the work as an example of the “bootlegging” he encountered in Vietnam:
Outside of the War Remnants Museum … people [were] lined up selling stacks of bootlegged books on the Vietnam War. … The books [were] about the Vietnam War, but they were written by Western writers and were originally distributed in Western countries. … The other thing that I found really fascinating was that many of the images in the museum itself were copied from American magazines and newspapers. They just took publications like Life and the Chicago Sun-Times, re-photographed the images in them, enlarged and framed them, and then hung them along with original images taken by Vietnamese war photographers.
Thus, in the spirit of “The American War,” although admittedly without the political weight, I re-present three images from Peter Tonningsen‘s “Flotsam and Jetsam,” which I encountered in the Oakland airport yesterday (only three images are on display in the airport; these, along with seventeen others, are available on his website): Read the rest of this entry »