Vietnam 50 Years Later, a Combat Photographer Remembers – Kondor exhibition opens in Budapest
Between 1969 and 1972, KONDOR László (Hungarian born American) served in the US Army as a combat photographer in Vietnam. The exhibition includes work throughout the country assigned to Army Divisions and DASPO, the Department of Army Special Photographic Office.
Kondor wore a uniform and carried a gun as he travelled through this unfamiliar landscape taking his camera into the life of the American soldier and the consequences of the war. This embedded access was integral to the photographer’s viewpoint. Kondor’s photographs offer us a look at the impact of the war on the young soldiers and rarely seen photographs of the Vietnamese people caught up in the conflict. They are compassionate and piercing. The images reflect the time – or the lack of it – in the field. Kondor focused on essential moments though he might have been in the field for months. He did not work under the daily pressure for breaking news, such as Associated Press, and Reuter’s in and out photographers. These are stories that unfold slowly, painfully or humorously, including his most celebrated photograph, taken in 1970 called “Old Man in Quang Ngai Market, 1969,” a quintessential portrait of the era.
This exhibition was created in 1995, twenty years after the fall of Saigon; Kondor selected and printed three master-sets of black and white silver-gelatin photographs of the Vietnam War for exhibition in Chicago.
“It was an act of healing – watching the full-frame prints emerge in my darkroom, I experienced a wave of visual and emotional excitement, which from the safe perspective of time was slowly becoming understandable.”
The American public reaction was overwhelming positive and in 1996, a master-set was acquired for the National Veterans Art Museum, NVAM, in Chicago. The work is finding its place in the history of Photography.
The work of this photographer of the 20th century is a document to the events that have shaken a super power and continue to resonate in America and Vietnam today. 2017, March 29th of each year was designated as National Vietnam War Veterans Day and 2018 is the 50th Year Commemoration of the Vietnam War. The American President has officially declared, “We honour the Vietnam veterans who fought against the spread of communism and vow that personal disapproval of the war is never again to be reflected against those that honourably wore a uniform.”
TÓTH Balázs Zoltán, Curator Hungarian Museum of Photography, said:
„Kondor László’s self-developed fine art prints are very important to the Hungarian Museum of Photography. A rare opportunity for our visitors. These photographs within an artistic space can easily be connected to the worldwide known legacy of Hungarian photographers. Photographers who were in the field and made visible the suffering and the everyday life of the citizens and soldiers in combat zones.
Kondor’s works, especially the ones which were made as a trained infantry-combat photographer in Vietnam, are the true realization of the famous quote of Robert Capa.
„If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Kondor’s images could not be better, because he was close – as one of the soldiers who fought in this war, a conflict which changed the world.”
A refugee from the 1956 Hungarian revolution, Kondor ultimately made his way to Chicago in 1961.
Educated as a political scientist at the University of Chicago, Kondor turned to photojournalism in the mid 1960’s. He was a witness to a time of great civil unrest in America and the biggest photographic opportunity of the decade … the Vietnam War. Returning after the war in 1972, Kondor became the official photographer to the iconic Chicago Mayor, Richard J. Daley and opened his own fine art studio in 1978.
He returned in 1996 to Hungary and currently lives in Kapolcs Village in Western Hungary with his American wife.
Exhibition Venue: Hungarian Museum of Photography /Magyar Fotográfiai Múzeum, Kecskemét, Hungary
Date: 1 September – 29 September 2018