An exhibit of iconic photographs from the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos opened at the Selegie Arts Center in Singapore on March 22, an installation that brings together photos from both sides of the war –communist and non-communist – and multiple decades from the 1950s until fighting ended in 1975.
Titled “Battlefield Lens Photographers of Indochina Wars 1950-1975”, the exhibit displays photographs from the private collection of Judd Kinne, an American-born Vietnam War veteran who has lived in the city-state since 1973, and who eventually became a Singaporean citizen 10 years ago.
Kinne, 74, joined the US Marine Corps after graduating from Colgate University, in New York State, in 1966. Initially serving as a 2nd Lieutenant, he did two tours in Vietnam, mostly in the north near the Demilitarized Zone and south of Danang.
He left the military in 1969, received an MBA from The Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, and ended up back in Saigon as a bank manager at American Express’ Tan San Nhut branch in 1971.
“I got tired (of the job) at AmEx,” said Kinne. “And came to Singapore without a job in August 1973.”
He found work at a boutique financial services firm and has been in Singapore ever since, working as an investment analyst/stockbroker with a variety of companies.
The 80 photos, on display until April 10 at the Photographic Society of Singapore (PPS), which co-organized the event, are part of Kinne’s larger collection of around 400, mostly black and white images.
Kinne started collecting photos from the Indochina wars in 2002. He has since bought original prints taken by some of the most famous photographers from that era.
These include legends such as Robert Capa, Larry Burrows, David Douglas Duncan, Eddie Adams, Philip Jones Griffiths, Don McCullin, Catherine Leroy, Kyoichi Sawada and Tim Page, among many others.
“It’s taken a long time to get the things I want, especially from the French [1945-1954] era,” said Kinne. He managed to buy one print taken by photographer Robert Capa, which the famed Hungarian took four days before he died after stepping on a landmine in Vietnam on May 25, 1954.
In reflecting on the war, Kinne noted in his welcoming remarks at the exhibition’s opening that Sir Max Hastings had recently published a book called Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy.
“That really sums it up,” Kinne said. “An epic tragedy!”
Kinne seems to enjoy most meeting the photographers themselves.
“For me, the most important thing is saying ‘I actually know Tim Page and that he took these photos’,” he said in an interview before the show.
“I became good friends with David Douglas Duncan,” Kinne added, referring to the legendary American photographer who covered World War II in the Pacific, the Korean War — for which he has been described as “the most prominent combat photographer” in that conflict — and on into Vietnam. Duncan published 29 books over a career spanning more than 70 years, including seven books on Picasso’s private paintings.
Kinne tells the story of writing Duncan a letter and then not hearing back for many months. Then one day he received a fax from the south of France. They ended up faxing each other for several years before meeting in person.
Kinne met world-renowned British photographer and author Tim Page in 1997 when Page was giving a talk at the Tanglin Club in Singapore. Over the years, Kinne purchased more than a dozen of Page’s iconic photos from both Vietnam and Cambodia.
Page, who now lives in Australia, was invited to the exhibit as a special guest.
“This is one of the most definitive collections I’ve ever seen,” said Page, who was wounded four times in Vietnam. “Because the prints are vintage [originals], it makes the collection even more unique.”
Page and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Horst Faas produced a classic publication called Requiem, which serves as a memorial to all the photographers — North and South Vietnamese, Cambodian, and expatriate — who died covering the wars in Indochina.
“This collection trumps Requiem,” said Page. “It includes photos taken by both living and dead photographers.”
Page was instrumental in helping Kinne secure photos taken by North Vietnamese Army photographers. The exhibit includes about 20 images from “the other side” that most of the world has never seen.
The Photographic Society of Singapore was pleased to host the exhibit. “These are not staged photos; they are really living,” said the society’s chairman Tan Soo Nan at the opening. “They are of great value to anyone who has an interest in photography.”
Kinne, for his part, is not much of a photographer himself. “I’m more interested in collecting vintage photos,” he mused.
And what his interest in social media? “No, no … Oh Christ, no!” he avowedly declares as someone who seems quite comfortable remaining above the frenzy of cyberspace during his eighth decade on the planet.
“I don’t have a Twitter account, am not on Facebook, and I don’t own a Selfie stick either.”