After a career spanning sixty years, world renowned photographer Tim Page has settled quietly into the Bellingen Shire, where he and his wife Marianne live what Tim describes as “a peaceful life.” ‘Peaceful’ is significant, considering that his photographic documentation of the Laos Civil War, the Vietnam War and the Six Day War in the Middle East in 1967 brought Tim directly into the firing line. He still carries the injuries to prove it.
Tim Page is the subject of many documentaries, two films and the author of ten books. Recently he was listed as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Photographers of All Time’ and is the recipient of many awards. A collection of Tim’s extraordinary works are currently being exhibited at the Bellingen Gallery and Framing Studio. This exhibition has three elements: “Diggers in the Nam”; “21” and “The Art Element”.
We had the privilege of interviewing Tim about the exhibition, his life and adventures………
Tim, you left England at 17 years old to travel across the world ending up in Laos during the Civil War. Would you describe yourself as always having an adventurous spirit and maybe a passion for danger?
I think the adventurous spirit was imbued in me by my father, who was raised in the 20s and 30s with no money. He saw me as his surrogate traveller. Danger never came into it, it just turns up and you take it in your stride.
When did you develop a passion for photography?
I got my first box Ensign on my 8th birthday, a 35mm when I was 13. In Laos I earned my first SLR and the game was on.
You spent 5 years photographing the Vietnam War. You’ve also spent time in other war torn regions. What attracted you to photographing war, victims and even the aftermath of this destruction?
I got lucky. In 1965 I was working in Laos for USAID. I photographed a coup d’etat and got an exclusive for UPI (United Press International). They offered me a job in Viet Nam at $90 per week photographing the war next door. For the next five years I worked largely on assignment for Time-Life, UPI, Paris Match and Associated Press. Once you have tasted a conflict zone, you become somewhat addicted to the whole thing, especially when you are a 20 years old.
Back then you could make a good living from magazines and other forms of media. But the other important point is your pictures made a difference – a good war picture automatically becomes an anti-war picture.
You must have developed strong feelings about war in general. Can you share some of these feelings?
It is both glamorous and horrific, unnecessary and a waste of human life. In war you see moments of incredible brutality and incredible compassion. Unfortunately, all wars are fuelled by mega-corporations (eg; Boeing, EXXON etc) who make huge profits at the expense of the civil populace, the bystanders.
You were injured several times during your time in Vietnam- do you still live with the consequences of these injuries?
Everyone who goes through conflict suffers downstream, both physically and mentally. I was severely wounded by a landmine and live with those injuries today. You see things that no person should ever see. The PTSD is ever recurrent.
Can you describe the “Diggers in Nam” collection?
This is part of my NAM trilogy (‘NAM’ / ‘DIGGERS IN THE NAM’ / ‘KOREANS IN THE NAM’).
I was with the Australians on the first day they arrived in Viet Nam. DIGGERS is a tribute to the mate-ship and professionalism that I witnessed whenever I was with them.
It is a collection of 20 images that I put together as an edition of 5 Box Sets – one box was donated to ‘SOLDIER ON’ to raise money for injured Afghanistan veterans.
The 20 images will hang down the hallway / entrance at the gallery as a tribute to the Diggers who can’t gather for Vietnam Veterans Day (August 18th – same day as Battle of Long Tan). And couldn’t gather for ANZAC DAY this year.
You co-edited the book ‘Requiem- By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina’. Can you describe what inspired this project?
‘Requiem’ came out of my initial search for my brother, house mate and best friend, Sean Flynn and another friend of ours Dana Stone. They were both captured the first day they went out in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. I tried to erect a memorial to them on the 17th parallel in Viet Nam. After getting permission to do it, it died a political death. So I decided that I would do something to honour and remember the greatest group of photographers that have ever existed, as a pledge to mates and peers so that they will always be remembered. Lest we forget. They were my mentors in a time of the last free coverage of a war. The first and last war without censorship where the photography and the reportage changed public opinion.
It should be noted that over a 20-year period, 135 photographers from all sides of the conflict were recorded as missing or having been killed.
Do you still have very close ties with Vietnam/Indochina?
I return as often as possible both to Viet Nam and Cambodia, the latter on a continuing search to resolve the fates of the missing media there. I have returned around 60 times and dedicated the last 30 odd years to photographing the victims of war – refugees, landmine victims and the devastating effects that Agent Orange is still having on the Vietnamese.
This current Bellingen exhibition includes your series “21”. Can you describe this collection?
’21’ is a collection 21 pictures, shot on a Leica 21mm prime lens (my favourite) over 40 years.
I released a limited edition of 21 boxes with the 21 prints.
Twenty one is actually 90. Let me expand on the perfect peripheral vista imbued by a 21mm lens on a 35mm Leica.
To quote Robert Capa, who died in Vietnam in 1954; “If your picture’s not good enough, you’re not close enough”. To make a good picture you have to be up close. That means a short focal length, something wide angle.
The 21 bestows a 90° right angle vision; it focuses down to a foot and loves to work close. Yet the landscapes it makes have that unique Leica fall-off at the edges; it is tack sharp. I can rock n roll two frames a second, forget motor drives, winders & batteries. The format would become my prime cadre, my walkabout vision from then until tomorrow.
These images represent pivotal moments to me and it was basically my Leica & 21mm that travelled with me from war to peace. Bits shed along the way but it was always a perfect synergy between mind and matter, clear vision. Pure Zen; a mindful moment.
What images are incorporated in “The Art Element”?
On December 9, 1967, police arrested Doors’ front man Jim Morrison as he performed onstage at the New Haven Arena. An incident that took place between Morrison and a police officer before the show led to Morrison’s public arrest, making him the first rock star ever taken into custody during the middle of a performance. I am showing a set of prints documenting this arrest that were published in LIFE magazine.
The box set comes with the original LIFE magazine and a page of text of my being arrested with Jim Morrison.
This collection also includes a set of BLOTTER prints – printed by Zane Kesey, son of Ken Kesey (The Magic Bus & One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). The prints are of The Ramones, The Doors, The Clash and a few esoteric images. The prints are replicas of the Timothy Leary acid blotters.
Don’t miss this opportunity to view Tim’s work –Bellingen Gallery and Framing Studio.
Get in quick to share an evening with Tim and hear the stories behind the images. Limited to 20 people.