Salvage Style

By Thy Phu Posted May 15, 2013

Trophies on Display at the War Museum in Hanoi.

Medium army museum

During my first visit to Hanoi in 2012, I couldn’t help marveling at photography’s ubiquity. While cameras flashed everywhere, nowhere was the practice more obvious than at the War Museum, where I happened upon a group of young communist soldiers, likely born after the war, on an excursion to remember a past that they hadn’t directly experienced. They brought along point-and-shoot cameras, and cajoled bemused fellow tourists to pose with them.  Even I couldn’t resist their delight in self-imaging. We staged these touristic photo opportunities against the somber backdrop of a war we were too young to have fought in, producing images against a vision of the past we did not personally remember. This is a past that seemed to take clear shape only through a careful construction of images.

While I chose not to reproduce the photos of the soldiers photographing themselves, here is an image of the vision against which their memories of the past are measured and taken: a photograph blown up to an exaggerated scale to keep pace with a massive sculpture, built out of salvaged airplane parts that heroically monumentalizes history. This famous photo of a beautiful guerilla soldier salvaging wreckage is no mere illustration of the process of reconstruction. Indeed, this image is integral to this process of reconstruction, and suggests that at this museum, what we see is the effectiveness of salvage photography for remembering—and remaking—history. Against this backdrop, the act of tourist photography is more than trite frivolity. This ritual continues in the tradition of salvage, reconstruction, and reimaging.


Figure 1 courtesy of Michael Tang.