Ghosts in the Landscape.
Photographs by Craig Barber. Text by Alison Devine Nordstrom.
Umbrage Editions, New York, 2006. 112 pp., 46 b&w illustrations, 16x9".
Like many Vietnam vets, Craig Barber has been returning to Vietnam for years, in an effort to come to terms with the past. Like many of his former comrades-in-arms, he has tried to capture his altered view of the land and the people through photography. Unlike most other returning vets, however, Barber has been working with a pinhole camera, and the sensibility of an artist. The resulting platinum photographs, seen and printed as diptychs and triptychs, are a complicated body. There is a tangible tenderness in Barber's
rendering, which seems to consist in equal measure of loss, regret, healing, admiration and a reclamation of both his youthful ignorance and the sense of life's possibilities. This is a lot to bring home by way of a cardboard box with a hole in it. The ghosts in the title take several forms: wartime memories; the dead, who have a large cultural presence in all Buddhist societies; and the
present-day Vietnamese, who populate the pictures, often so fleetingly that the long exposures can only fix their shadows. The regeneration of the country means that much of the population is too young to remember the decades-long war-shell craters are fish ponds now, and shell casings are fence posts. All the types of horrific harm done by modern weaponry are beginning to give way, slowly. The combination of platinum, pinhole and the hazy light of the tropics lends Barber's pictures a dreamlike air, but without sentimentality. The feeling is one of generosity and gratitude, of rebuilding through hardship. There are images of freshly planted rice
paddies, neatly thatched huts, haystacks, brickworks, an ordered agrarian world passing through the seasonal round. The visual analogy with Barber's reanimation is joyous and persuasive; it makes you want to embrace him and his camera, so fragile, so alive, whole.
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