From Bien Hoa, Lutz Bacher, 2006-2007.
On view at BAM/PFA in California until October 7th.
Bien Hoa is is based on a set of ten photographs Bacher discovered at a Berkeley salvage store. All of the photographs were created by an American soldier named Walter, who was stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base during the Vietnam War. Walter inscribed the backs of all but two of the pictures before mailing them home to his partner in Oakland. Bacher has enlarged and reprinted the photographs to hang above the verso of the originals, which disclose Walter’s annotations. These have a surprisingly casual tone, given what must have been the harrowing experience of being a soldier stationed in Vietnam. In some cases, Walter’s inscriptions sound almost like a tourist writing a postcard; in others, he seems to have been more concerned with the composition of the image than with the grisly content of a scene. “This is Bien Hoa looking at it from the Air Base. This is a pretty good picture. Now do you think that’s beautiful? Can you see the wire, keeping the people from attacking the Air Base? That’s what those fences are out there for.”
By strategically juxtaposing these images and texts, and placing them in a museum setting, Bacher reveals the slippery nature of perception. She prompts us to wonder, Why was Walter so concerned with the quality of his images? Why were these photographs discarded? What became of Walter?