Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Gift

Edward Weston believed that the sky was the best possible backdrop for photographing the human head. This portrait employs that dictum.

Luis in Llano San Juan

I like to photograph people candidly or at least to have the images appear extemporaneous even when I’m in the victim’s face. Most people can’t ignore the photographer so their portraits look posed or awkward. That’s even true with rich folks and celebrities who should know it and can afford better. Luis on the other hand went about his business when I said “Forget I’m here” and I was able to capture his expressive face in a couple of minutes. It helped that he was having an animated conversation by my cohorts Steve Bundy and John Farnsworth. Having the subject interact with somebody else is a very useful device.

He began talking about Viet Nam from the jump. Seeing combat in that theater of the absurd seems to have colored his life like nothing else. “You don’t want to mess with a Vietnam vet he told us.” The implication being that if you survived that hell hole you’re one tough dude. He tells a story of a captured Viet Cong who was going to be flown out by helicopter along with Luis’s company commander when a grunt from the squad “blew his brains out” saying “He doesn’t deserve to ride with our captain.”

Luis says he had the next to last number in the draft and deployed to Viet Nam. When he returned to the U.S. he and his fellow soldiers were greeted with derision and hostility. “Didn’t they know It wasn’t our choice to go? Did you know that more hispanos served per capita than any other ethnic group?” he asked. John Farnsworth added that “More suffered and died in the Bataan Death March, too."

Joining the Army Reserve in 1960 and discharged in 1966 I missed Viet Nam and am happy to say so. Too young for Korea. Too old for Viet Nam. It’s a gift.