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Photographer focuses on scars of war

Update: July, 28/2009 - 00:00

Photographer focuses on scars of war

(29-07-2009)

Lenser Yasufumi Murayama first visited Viet Nam 11 years ago.

by Van Dat

In the frame: Self portrait of Yasufumi Murayama. — File Photo
Painful memories: Yasufumi took this photo in Quang Ngai Province last year. Truong Thi Le was one of the three members of her family to survive the My Lai massacre in 1968. When American soldiers arrived, she hid her children but her daughter was dragged out, raped and killed in front of her.

HCM CITY — It is 11 years since Japanese photojournalist Yasufumi Murayama first visited Viet Nam. He was on a tour that took him to a photo exhibition at the War Remnants Museum in HCM City.

Despite meeting a few unfriendly people and not knowing anything about Viet Nam, he was instantly attracted to the country.

"I used a handicam then and did not think of taking photographs about people suffering due to the war.

"But right afterwards I wondered why I didn’t take photos about the country and street children or write about the country."

Now, after 28 visits, Yasufumi has many friends here and has had many stories about Viet Nam published in his country.

The 41-year-old has 100,000 photos about the country and its people.

He says a photojournalist should choose a single country to explore and Viet Nam has been his choice. "I promised myself that Viet Nam is the only country I will learn about during the rest of my life."

"I love Viet Nam as if loving a girl; that’s why I keep coming here. My wife isn’t at all jealous and … I’ll bring her next month."

Amazingly, despite his 28 visits, he has never been in some major cities likes Ha Noi, Hue and Da Nang though he has gone almost everywhere else in the country. He prefers to visit the countryside where there are so many victims of the war and Agent Orange dioxin, chemicals used by the US forces to defoliate forests during the American War.

"Maybe the final place I’ll visit in Viet Nam at the end of my life is Ha Noi. Despite coming many times, there are many things about the country I don’t know."

To help his compatriots know more about Viet Nam and its people, Yasufumi has organised so many exhibitions at home he can’t remember how many. His best estimate is between 100 and 200.

Suffering continues

"Many visitors come to me and say they visited Viet Nam but what they saw in my photos was totally different."

His explanation? "The war has not really ended in Viet Nam since so many still suffer its consequences."

That is one reason why he wants to share the images he captures with students from Japan and throughout the world.

"I took the photos to universities in Japan to show students who don’t know about the wars in Japan or Viet Nam."

In 2004, he joined a campaign to support the victims of Agent Orange, collecting 1,000 signatures in a month. He is nurturing an idea of a similar campaign and getting more signatures.

"I used to lead a life of poverty in my childhood. After coming to Viet Nam and meeting Agent Orange victims, I feel I am luckier."

In September 2006, he took a Vietnamese girl to Japan for an operation. Do Thuy Duong, then 18, underwent a major surgery at the Kyoto University Hospital to fit prosthetic body parts to replace those damaged by the deadly chemicals.

Revisiting My Lai

The War Remnants Museum on Monday displayed about 60 photos capturing images of the war and subsequent changes in the country taken by him and his friend and photojournalist, Nishimura Yoichi, to commemorate Viet Nam’s War Invalids and Martyrs Day (July 27).

In his third photo exhibition in Viet Nam, Yasufumi brings stark images from present-day Son My Village in the central region where the brutal My Lai massacre took place 41 years ago.

Five hundred and four unarmed villagers were butchered by US troops in one of the darker chapters of conflict anywhere in the world.

The exhibition also showcases the rejuvenation of the country in the last 34 years through images of the Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve in HCM City and rubber forests in neighbouring Tay Ninh Province.

Both areas were pummeled by American B-52 bombers during the war.

"The thing I like best is Viet Nam has designated a day to remember martyrs and victims," Yasufumi said, adding it is meaningful to organise the exhibition in August.

On August 15 1945, the war ended in Japan; on August 6 and 9 the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; in Viet Nam, the US began spraying Agent Orange on August 10.

The exhibition runs for a month. — VNS

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