Gordon Ward Gahan Collection

Color Photography

Color Photography

Gordon Ward Gahan

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

Gordon Ward Gahan

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

Gordon Ward Gahan

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

Gordon Ward Gahan

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

The majority of the materials from Gahan’s time in Vietnam consist of 35mm black-and-white negatives. However, Gahan also took photographs using color film. A small number of the color images in this collection are color negatives, but most are slides, and these frames provide a rich, chromatic contrast to the collection’s predominant shades of gray.

Even more remarkable than the lush color of the slides is the darkness of many of the images, especially those taken in the central highlands region along the border with Cambodia, where Gahan spent the fall of 1967. At times the darkness in these pictures is nearly impenetrable, broken by only the faintest hints of light. Neither the photographer’s error nor wholly his creation, this darkness reflects the landscape itself.

The central highlands region of Vietnam was often characterized by the men who fought there as a quagmire of inhospitable landscape, “an endlessly fermenting compost” [1]. Composed of hilly terrain covered in triple-canopied jungle, the area was referred to as the “land with no sun” [2]—a place where progress in battle was difficult to achieve and nearly impossible to gauge. Yet hazards such as the bamboo-choked ground, the stifling moisture, and the dense foliage translate on film into images of arresting vibrancy and deep, saturated earth tones. Although he used color-positive film throughout his career, including at other points during his service in Vietnam, the pictures taken in the central highlands are among the most dramatic and highly praised in the collection. They were also taken at immense personal peril.

 


1. George L. MacGarrigle, Combat Operations: Taking the Offensive, October 1966 to October 1967 (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1998), 299.

2. Command Sergeant Major Ted G. Arthurs, Land with No Sun: A Year in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2006).