Capturing the War: An artist's-eye view
People were running and diving and I threw my pack down and grabbed my movie camera and still camera and got on my knees to move forward. Somebody yelled, ‘Get down on your bloody belly, you silly dickhead!’Noel Bell, HQ V Force
Art served both official and unofficial roles in New Zealand’s Vietnam War. Officially, its duties were twofold: continuing military art’s documentary tradition, and supporting the army’s public relations effort back home. Unofficially, many professional soldiers turned amateur cameramen documented their overseas experiences using the latest portable cameras. Boxes of acetate slides, Instamatic snaps, Polaroid’s and Super 8mm film today face obsolescence in veterans’ wardrobes and attics. There were also skilled painters and sketch artists in the ranks of serving personnel. Medical student John Gillies, who served in South Vietnam for three months in 1969, drew the scenes and characters he encountered. Many years later, the art of the Vietnam War – photographs, film, paintings and drawings – offers a view that is not focused solely on conflict and controversy.
Official photographers and painters were dispatched as part of the New Zealand military contingent. Attached to New Zealand’s V Force HQ, army photographers Noel Bell and Evan Black served alongside battery and infantry. Their work presented a keen audience back home with a sanctioned view of the war.
Want to find out how New Zealanders documented their experiences Vietnam? Click on the images below to access related written, audio, and video content: