This past weekend, my wife and I went to estate sales. The early birds caught the worms, whereas the late birds - us - still came home with a trunk filled with stuff. Part of that stuff is this little book by David Douglas Duncan entitled I Protest! I had never heard of it before (*). I saw the cover of the book - it was lying on an unassuming pile of other books, and I picked it up not knowing that its author was a photographer. (more; updated below)
That’s the photographer, on the back of the book, and I didn’t have to have a look inside to know I should buy the book. I don’t know how much I paid for it. The book became part of a bag containing boxes of medium-format slides, old, unused and long outdated film, plus some other things; and everything was of so little interest to the lady in charge of the sale that she didn’t even bother looking at what we had. “Five bucks.” Five bucks it was.
Here are the first sentences from I Protest!:
For more than the last quarter century I’ve been shot at by any number of extremely unattractive men, the bulk of them Communists. I’m no peacenik, Vietnik, pinkie, Commie, liberal, conservative, kook, hippie, hawk or dove. I’m just a veteran combat photographer and foreign correspondent who cares intensely about my country and the role we are playing - and assigning to ourselves - in the world today. And I want to shout a loud and clear protest at what happened at Khe Sanh, and in all of Vietnam.
Duncan keeps up that intensity over the following 14 pages. After his essay - well worth the read - come the images. You can find some of the here. I scanned some pages to give you an idea what they look like in the book (click on the images to see larger versions of the spreads).
I suppose we could argue about the photography. I suppose we could also argue about the Vietnam War. And maybe there is something to be gained from that. Maybe.
I suppose we also could argue about how the war in Afghanistan is or is not like the war in Vietnam. Maybe we’ll gain insight doing that. Maybe not.
We could also argue about the photography itself, its style, the way it tries to convey its message. I’ve done this before; not today.
What struck me about I Protest! was its existence, the way it was done. There are still combat photographers, who for the most part prefer a somewhat more sanitized depiction of war. The dead other is mostly invisible, as are our own dead. It’s a matter of privacy now.
We just don’t protest that much any more.
(*) Update: Memory didn’t serve me well this time. I Protest! is featured in The Photobook - A History, as a reader reminded me (thank you!)