By: C. Justin Hall & Zachary Allen
A Photograph, Its Media, & Rhetorical Impression
The war in Vietnam was a conflict of great media scrutiny. Photographer and photojournalist, Larry Burrows presents visual rhetoric in a raw, uncensored form to reveal actualities of this seemingly ambiguous conflict. His strong, bold photo journals intrigue the reader and present truths that demand attention and consideration. One photo from this iconic photojournalist may represent heroism and epitomize patriotic duty while another may demonstrate misery, depression, and failure. Burrows’ intended to inform. His unbiased photos and narrative journals would be interpreted by media to portray the desired message. Rhetoric is ubiquitous. No matter the style or purpose of the author, emotion is elicited and we are persuaded in some conscious or subconscious manner.Burrows constantly put his life in danger to capture such strong, intense rhetorical messages. Unfortunately, he lost his life to the conflict while aboard a helicopter flying over Laos on February 10th, 1971. He indulged in his passion at a very young age. He worked his first job for Life magazine at the young age of 16. This job required the menial task of printing copies of photographs. Opportunity grew with his passion. He would later immerse himself in his work and become involved in the Vietnam conflict. Here, he would compose his most riveting photo journals depicting the real, visceral happenings of war. The first discussed photo was taken in the year 1965. It was part of a collection published in the April edition of Life magazine. (Wong)
Exposition of Conflict
Rhetoric was such an integral part of this war due to the trepidation of Communism. After the Red Scare and radical McCarthyism practice that caused nationwide paranoia, the US federal government endeavored to aid any nation oppressed or divided by Communist rule. This gave incentive for an active foreign policy. Vietnam and Korea seemed to be the ideal candidates for such aid. The ruling forces of both nations were adopting many Communism ideas at the time. Because this doctrine was implemented abruptly and without democratic approval, much civil conflict ensued. Vietnam soon separated itself due to this lack of consensus: North Vietnam (Communist) and South Vietnam (Republic).
United States President John F. Kennedy interpreted this civil unrest as a cry for help. Although Eisenhower initially investigated the matter of Vietnam’s independence and overall well-being, no official provision came until JFK’s inauguration. US involvement in this conflict came into full swing after the Gulf of Tonkin attack of 1964 involving both US and Vietnamese naval and air forces (Morris). Lyndon B. Jonson, however, would be the first president to actually deploy troops to Vietnam. Johnson hoped this military bombardment would overwhelm North Vietnam and force them to surrender, thus, expunging North Vietnamese Communist implementations. This is when anti-nationalist views began to emerge in America. United States militaristic efforts were yielding little success. Years and years passed without resolution. This led many Americans to view these war efforts as a futile display of arrogance. Never before had America experienced defeat. While this defeat or lack of effectiveness is easily identifiable to the spectator, political leaders thought otherwise. Virtue, valor, and the indefatigable nature of the American spirit would surely be tested through the long, agonizing years of death, bitterness, and utter ambiguity. Logically, one has to consider the ethics of sacrifice. Ultimately, is the liberation of South Vietnam worth the lives of countless American soldiers? Perhaps there is an ulterior motive concealed by American politics and propaganda. Such inquiries and ideas caused Americans to reevaluate their trust in governmental operations and motives.
Larry Burrows: A Life of Shooting
This particular photo was extracted from Burrows’ photojournal, One Ride with Yankee Papa 13. The portrayed photo was actually the cover of the April 1965 edition of Time Magazine. In this photo, one can see two American soldiers aboard a helicopter. One soldier lies critically wounded on the floor of the aircraft while the other soldier protectively surrounds his fallen comrade, simultaneously manning a machine-gun turret. A rescue mission is in progress. The aircraft is in an assumed hostile area due to the inertia of the downed soldier. This visual art evinces the idea of valor. One soldier putting his life in harm’s way to save another is admirable behavior. Although admiration is a universal interpretation, victory is not. Life is unfortunately lost. The publication or release of such photography would play a role in advocating the critical, anti-nationalist views that many Americans took during this epoch of American history. The conventional Transcendentalist or Hippie in America at this particular time would advocate peace and happily digest anti-war propaganda and rhetoric. This particular photo is raw; thus, portraying no elaborate deception or guile. However one interprets the explicit, real images, some emotion is elicited. Thus, rhetoric is ubiquitous even if there is no established or intended affinity. (Burrows)
A Closer Look
This polarizing photograph elicits a plethora of emotion. Ideas of heroism, valor, terror, and sympathy all derive from viewing this image. The supplemental literature in this article allocates clarity and creates a tragic, yet true, story. A parallelism text and photography collaborate to contrive a genuine story any reader can descry. Direct and explicit, the story is told. The name of the helicopter was “Yankee Papa 13”. The crew consisted of Private Wayne Hoilien, Captain James Farley, Lieutenant James Magel, Lieutenant Owens and, of course, Larry Burrows.
The initial objective of the mission was to airlift a battalion of Vietnamese infantry to a desolate location of safety. The objective also included circumventing altercation. This mission, however, would go awry as Vietcong soldiers ambush them. In the photo presented, one can see a wounded soldier in a state of questionable consciousness (James Magel). Another American soldier (Farley) can be seen heroically guarding his fallen comrade. He wears a frantic look of confusion upon his face as Magel lies lifelessly at his feet. Farley’s left hand is still clinging to the massive, high caliber machine gun. This indicates he is either intending to man the weapon, or abdicate firing in order to assist Magel. His eyes also seem to be focusing on an object or person outside the scope of the camera. This leads to viewer to insinuate Farley is requesting the help of Hoilien, the only crew member not visibly present. The shape of Farley’s mouth indicates he is yelling. This would only be necessary if the chopper were in motion and the situation exigent. Also, one can notice an arm grasping Magel. This arm is located in the lower, left-hand corner of the photograph. One can assume this arm belongs to Lieutenant Owens, who was also clipped in the neck while aboard YP13. Magel does not seem to be responding to this touch. This observation simply supports the criticality of his health.
The situation is sorrowful and real. Military efforts and objectives are difficult due to the unfamiliar, forested environment. The land is unknown and victory is a distant, inauspicious goal. The supplemental literature submitted by Burrows explains how no one could attend Magel until the chopper cleared hostile territory. Hoilien had to spend his time warding off enemy encroachment by suppressing fire on the unseen enemy. The text in this photograph blatantly attempts to instill a desired message to the public. In small print (in contrast to the message below) one can read, “By LARRY BURROWS in VIETNAM”. In much larger text, one can read, “WITH A BRAVE CREW IN A DEADLY FIGHT”. Valor is just as viable as death in this photo. To install some positivism, Life editors include the term, “brave”. This term is accentuated for the sake of rhetoric. This term proclaims the idea of valor and immeasurable bravery. This word attributes (or attempts too attribute) a positive identity to this photo. Without this term, a different interpretation may be displayed. Pragmatically, death is not a positive. The anguish and misery experienced by these men cannot be quantified. Although the mission itself epitomizes bravery, one is dissuaded from investigating the deeper, more relevant question: is the conflict worth the loss? This genuine portrayal of conflict would, as previously stated, revolutionize America’s view on the war and the efficacy of US involvement. (Burrows)
Progression of Human Thought
Arguably a modernist composer, Burrows portrays the explicit and disregards aesthetics. Capturing beauty and sensations of wondrous awe were indeed not this man’s intentions. He wanted to expose. He viewed the war both a problem and a solution. His photos evince the horrors of an oppressive government and the futile results that ensued foreign intervention. Before photography, such images were not possible, much less probable. Before the epoch that spawned photography, writing and art were the only known means of communicating ideas and findings. With the invention of photography comes the galvanization of the explicit and the birth of propaganda.
Weapon of the Intrepid Warrior
Larry Burrows primarily used a Nikon F 35mm SLR throughout his stent photographing the Vietnam War. While the lengths of his lenses varied for different shots the camera body remained the same. This camera was considered a milestone in photography history for many reasons. “It proofed its success in realizing the benefit of such a modern SLR design in Nikon F, although some other brands incorporated some of the similar SLR design, but did not create the big influence in professional photography. Auto-diaphragm removed the trouble in dealing with maximum and reduced aperture for viewing and shooting. Automatic self-returning mirror enabled photographers to keep watching the scene with the reflex mirror flipping and shutter curtain traveling, all completed in a fraction of a second.” (eyes coffee) These features made the Nikon F the go-to camera for photographers in combat situations. All of the photos we are referring to for this project were published in the April 1965 issue of Life magazine. For these photos Larry used a Nikon F equipped with a Nippon Kogaku 50mm lens with an aperture of F/1.4. We were unable to find out what the exact settings were for the specific images we are using. From what we could find from the context of his work we assume he is working with black and white film. The photos were taken in Da’ Nang, Vietnam in late march of 1965 and traveled quickly to America where they were chosen for this specific issue of the magazine. (Burrows)
Life magazine in partnership with Google has made every issue ever published available to the public at images.google.com/hosted/life. At this time we are unable to find where the original negatives and contact sheets are being held.
Burrows, Larry. “One Ride With Yankee Papa 13.” Life 16 Apr. 1965: n. pag. Print.
Kennedy , L. “”A Compassionate Vision”: Larry Burrows’s Vietnam War Photography.”Photography And Culture 4 (): p179-p194. Print.
Morris, Jill. “The Presidents during the Vietnam War.” The Presidents during the Vietnam War. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <http://personal.ashland.edu/~jmoser1/usfp/morris.htm>.
“vietnam before and after communism.” prezi.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <http://prezi.com/wclba0rfn4ga/vietnam-before-and-after-communism/>.
Wong, Duncan . “Nikon F Milestone in SLR Camera History.” Nikon F Milestone in SLR Camera History. EyesCoffee.com, 31 Dec. 1999. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <http://www.eyescoffee.com/collectcamera/nikonf/index.php>.