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vietnam-exhibit-30 News & Insight

Photographs From Vietnam Remember a People History Forgot

By Ryan Filgas on June 11th 2014

A Different Kind of Memorial

The Vietnam War was perhaps one of the most controversial wars in history, and the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC followed suit as a controversial subject for a time later. This was because the two world wars preceding it had been so devastating that war was no longer remembered for glory and valor, as was expected in historical monuments, but an unfortunate necessity and an ultimate sacrifice, as reflected in the new class of memorials following World War One; wars where the casualties were so high there wasn’t room for more than a name and the flowers left behind, lest conflicts be glorified.

An exhibition at the Rice University Art Gallery in Houston, Texas, aims for a different type of memorial to remember some of the lost history of Vietnam, a history that is still being suppressed. It’s Called “Crossing the Farther Shore.”

[REWIND: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images To Online Users]


The video below follows the work of Dinh G Lê who was born in Hà Tiên, Vietnam during 1968. Nine years later, he and his family left Vietnam to seek asylum, and in 1994, he came back to visit. During that trip he found pieces of history, photographs numbering in the thousands that would record the history of Vietnam prior to the northern government’s take-over.


Included were the personal pieces, portraits, and family vacations, that were somehow lost in the midst of the conflict. The collection contains different family photos from all over Vietnam, and in looking through them, he hoped to find the ones his family couldn’t take with them when they left for Thailand, and then America.

The photos are arranged as a netting that the Vietnamese slept in to keep out mosquitoes, and is said to represent a “Sleeping Dreaming Memory of Vietnam,” a memory much different than what was seen during and after the war. On the backs are parts of letters, excerpts from the American-Vietnamese Oral History Project, and a poem, The Tale of Kieu that identifies with those who left Vietnam because of the war. It follows the story of a woman who sells herself into marriage to save her family, and after trials in far away places she is reunited back home.


Though I’m far removed from the experience of Vietnam myself, the exhibit was good to see. When discussing the history of a war, it’s easy to get caught up in atrocities, and in doing so, we bury what many know of as the human spirit; acts of incredible heroism, moments of unexplained happiness, the joy of a child over something trivial, and the often incredible personalities of those living through it. The family histories of so many were lost to the world, yet now can live on through this exhibit. Here are some stills from the video to get a better look.

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Vietnam wasn’t a situation where a conventional memorial suffices for what happened, because there were so many other parts of society in Vietnam living through it first-hand. Dinh G Lê has found a legacy worth leaving, and hopefully this exhibit continues well into the future. It’s yet another step to help heal the scars left behind, and preserve the memories of a people that history would have forgotten.


If you get a chance to visit Houston Texas before August 28th, I suggest you go see it in person. The experience of seeing history before your eyes, and knowing that the very thing you’re looking at was once in the hands of those past is a surreal experience. I remember this after a trip to Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. I stood over the ruins of the U.S.S. Arizona nearly seventy years after a day that lives in infamy, December 7, 1941. There’s some feeling a visitor gets standing on the deck that can’t quite be explained, and I suspect visiting this will be similar.

As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to comment below.


[via Vimeo/Images From Screen Capture]




Ryan Filgas is an aspiring portrait photographer and studio arts major at Humboldt State University. His life consists of talking with friends, taking classes, and planning his next outdoor adventure. You can find his work on his website, Facebook, Google+, or connect with him via email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Timothy Nguyen

    This is absolutely beautiful.

    My mother herself was a boat person who seeked asylum from the communist takeover, it’s just remarkable to think that these are just two people among perhaps thousands of displaced Vietnamese who have experienced more in a few years than what most people do in a lifetime.

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  2. David Park

    This is awesome!

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