A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Nov 11, 2009
A Real Tribute
Today is Veteran’s Day. And the Chazen Museum of Art offers a truly poignant tribute to our country's veterans in its new exhibition, Back in the World: Portraits of Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans.
The exhibition features twenty-six large-scale photographs of Wisconsin veterans that served in the Vietnam War. The portraits were taken by James Gill, a staff photographer for Wisconsin Public Television, in conjunction with a documentary about veterans from the state that will air in 2010.
Alongside each portrait are quotes from the veterans. Their words range from sad to funny to haunting, but all are stirring. They talk about friends who got them through the war and friends they lost. They share what it took to survive in Vietnam and what it was like coming home.
The portraits themselves are equally as powerful. Gill photographed the veterans up close and unapologetically. It’s almost too intimate for the viewer at first. The veterans stare you straight in the eye and look ready to tell you about their experiences in war. Some seem to wonder if you want to know what happened; others almost dare you to ask. Several appear to inquire about what you think of war, how you regard veterans, how you treat them once they return home.
You see the veterans’ tattoos and the wrinkles on their faces. Such an honest portrayal proves they are real people. No matter how you feel about the war, these people were there. They saw what happened. They were part of what happened. Their faces take the conflict out of political rhetoric and history books and set it right in your lap. You can’t look away. How could you? Doing so would be denying what they’ve experienced and sacrificed.
Daniel Hinkle, a platoon leader from the Army’s 4th Infantry Division who served from 1965–1968, says in the plaque by his portrait: “I will never get to where I was before and I’ve accepted that. I will never be who I was before. Not even close. I don’t know why we have such trouble differentiating the war from the warrior. You can hate the war but why hate the warrior?”
Back in the World runs through January 3 at the Chazen Museum of Art.
Today at 6 p.m., the Chazen hosts a panel discussion with Wisconsin Vietnam veterans, with a reception to follow from 7 to 8:30 p.m. And on November 19 at 7 p.m., photographer James Gill conducts a gallery talk on the exhibition. For more information, visit chazen.wisc.edu.
Photo courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.