When Howard S. Lavick, associate professor of film and television production, returned home from war, he packed away his uniform along with his memories of Vietnam. Little did he know that more than 30 years later the images he took as a combat photographer would publicly surface to engage a community in an overdue healing process.
“Like many Vietnam vets, I just wanted to get back to ‘regular life,’” explained Lavick. “The photo contest more than anything triggered the fact that I had not looked at my work in many years and gave me the opportunity to look back on my experience. … I never expected to win the top prize.”
In May 2008, Lavick entered five of his photographs in “Memories of Vietnam 1955 – 1975,” a juried exhibition organized by the Viet Art Center in Garden Grove, Calif. Lavick’s images capture scenes of everyday life. Only 96 of more than 500 entries were chosen for the exhibit, including all five of Lavick’s photographs. His photo titled “Sweet Happiness”, showing a shy, young Vietnamese couple, was unanimously voted first place by a group of judges that included Pulitzer Prize-winning AP journalist Nick Ut.
“These images may not be as dramatic as the war scenes, but they do show what everyday life was like for the people of Vietnam amidst the chaos of war,” Lavick said. “In their own quiet way, these people give a sense of hope for a better future.”
Lavick believes that, much like today, positive stories or images that result from war are rarely shared with the public. He sees this exhibition as a healing opportunity between many in the South Vietnamese community and American soldiers.
“To me it was important to capture some of the normality, a shred of humanity, and humanize the people instead of de-humanizing them. If my work touched people by helping them take a different look on the experience, I am grateful.”
The exhibition will be on display through July 5, 2008. In 2010 the show is expected to travel to Hanoi, Vietnam, as a way to build a cultural bridge between American and Vietnamese people.
(Photos: Pictured above is Lavick on duty in Vietnam. "Sweet Happiness" is pictured on the bottom right)