Americans are happy to let most cultural events fade. Even 9/11, after only 17 anniversaries, is reduced in most parts of the country to souvenir T-shirts and voicing support for the first responders. We’re less comfortable sharing grief for the men, women and children whom the United States was unable to protect that morning.
Maybe it’s still too soon to put the attack on American civilians in proper perspective, their deaths as innocents harder to grapple with when victims from the armed services are easier to honor. We hold parades for them, erect statues of them and build massive memorials such as the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to enshrine the price paid by them.
Few people alive on 9/11 had firsthand memories of Dec. 7, 1941, but many would have remembered at least one of the other wars America had fought since World War II: Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Iraq, each with its own memorials.
Commemorating war dead in other countries is easier for Americans. The best example is our continuing reaction to the Vietnam War.
It coincided with the golden age of photojournalism, contributing to the cinema-verité style of still photography, with photographers in the middle of the action.
That unvarnished reporting would come to define news photography in the 1970s, influenced by the work of Larry Burrows, Philip Jones Griffiths and, of course, Eddie Adams, among the dozens of other war photographers whose work continues to influence the way American journalists visually report on conflict.
With the Vietnam War now 43 years in America’s past, photographers look to re-evaluate our involvement, even if there is no longer a direct link from present to that conflicted time.
Kevin German made such a journey, producing a set of photographs that interprets our collective memory. His view is like a dream, a mix of scenes and characters that seem random at first but come together in a narrative once you fill in the story.
In “Color Me Gone,” German’s photos reflect a hopeful perspective of the country we left much worse than we found it. His view, printed mostly in black and white, is filled with shadows and niches on streets or in restaurants, with just enough light cast across his subjects to make you wonder what else is going on. That’s because his photographs, as quiet as they sometimes are, always buzz with energy and movement.