Charlie Haughey’s photos put you squarely in the boots of a U.S. soldier in Vietnam, offering you a glimpse of his fears, his joys, his private moments. Haughey’s compelling images, which were in storage for 44 years, are now on display at ADX Art Gallery in southeast Portland.
“It’s a celebration of the soldiers,” says Haughey.
Haughey was stunned when he viewed his rediscovered images after more than four decades.
“I literally didn’t sleep for three days. My mind just wouldn’t stop. I didn’t realize there’s such a connection after all these years.”
Haughey served in Vietnam from March 1968 to May 1969 after being drafted. His first job in the infantry was to sweep for explosives. Three months later, he was assigned to be an army photographer. He set up a darkroom in a shipping container. His colonel told Haughey his assignment was not to be a combat photographer, but to help boost morale. The colonel instructed him to photograph the soldiers doing their jobs and to get the pictures in the newspapers, Haughey says.
“I’m surprised at the amount of information that’s in these pictures. The experience keeps roaring back,” says Haughey.
He occasionally fights back tears when he relives the darker times and the killings.
“There are places in my mind I don’t go. Every once in a while, there’s a conversation or somebody points out something in a picture that I hadn’t really paid attention to. It opens another door. I just say, ‘Excuse me. I can’t go there,’ ” he says.
Haughey came home from Vietnam with 2,000 negatives and put them in storage. A team of seven volunteers has worked for about four months to digitize those negatives. So far, they have completed more than 1,800 images.
Photographer Kris Regentin spearheaded this project after he met Haughey last year. Regentin was photographing Haughey’s scrap wood artwork, when Haughey mentioned that he had once been a photographer during the Vietnam War and had about 2,000 negatives in storage. Regentin asked Haughey to allow him to digitize the images.
“I knew we were on to something valuable,” says Rengentin.
Haughey consented to the project after being badgered for about one month, says Regentin. And the pictures were born.
“The pictures are incredible and gorgeous. They’re striking. It was something I was compelled to share. People had to see them,” says Regentin.
Haughey looks for emotion and a story when he shoots.
“When I look through a viewfinder, I ask if this tells a story by itself. Any one of these photographs ought to say something.”
However, the passing of time and faded memories have erased parts of the story. In the captions of many of the pictures, Haughey’s recollections of names, places and locations are sometimes blurry.
Haughey’s exhibit has received worldwide news coverage — including the BBC, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe Blog, and Spiegel news magazine in Germany — and now people from all over the world have been contacting Haughey and Regentin to say they recognize their dads, uncles or other loved ones in the photos.
Charlie Haughey’s exhibit “The Weather Walked In” is on display at ADX Art Gallery through April 30, 2013.