On Exhibit: a grunt's view of Vietnam | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Exhibit: a grunt's view of Vietnam 

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Chicagoan Lazlo Kondor got his job as a war photographer by fibbing to army recruiters. He told them he was the official photographer for the first Mayor Daley. Trained as an infantryman and equipped with battle gear he sometimes used, Kondor spent two years in Vietnam on missions that civilian photographers were barred from because--unlike Kondor--they could not fight.

"Every war is fought by small units," Kondor says. "When the bullets start flying I guarantee you that nobody is fighting for the flag or for General Westmoreland--they fight for each other.

"War is an emotion. If you can capture emotion in the faces of the participants you capture war." In the photo L.R.R.P. Team Arkansas Waiting for Extraction With Wounded N.V. Soldier, a group of men resolutely watch for a helicopter to evacuate a wounded enemy. "That's a team. They look in the same direction. They even look alike," Kondor observes. It's the last part of a series of four photos that reveal war's contradictions. First the soldiers are in a helicopter "smiling and having fun," notes Kondor, but then just before landing two faces, now quite grim, look in opposite directions, as if already surveilling hostile country. Kondor's wife looked at this sequence--which ends with the North Vietnamese soldier's evacuation--and told him, "This is crazy. First you shoot him up and then you're risking your life to save him."

Looking at Music, Quang Nai Market--which shows a group of girls with their faces hidden under large conical hats--Kondor asks, "What are these girls doing? Probably five or ten miles away the sky was rumbling with a huge napalm strike, and they're nonchalantly copying music. Contradiction? Yes. But war had been going on in this country for 20-some years. You still have to fish and farm rice and copy music because you have to survive."

Kondor understands the toll war takes on civilians. Born in 1940 in Hungary, he remembers the end of World War II. "The Germans and the Soviet troops were fighting over our village," he says. "Most of the time we were down in the basement because for weeks on end they were pushing back and forth for one lousy village--captured, recaptured, captured, recaptured." In Scorched-Earth Policy, Quan Tin Province, a girl of about eight or nine stands in front of her burning home holding her younger brother in her arms. Kondor says the crying girl is "screaming, "Don't burn my house!' But the little boy is totally uncomprehending." Pointing to the boy, Kondor says, "I see myself--that's me."

Ironically, when Kondor returned to Chicago in 1972, he started working as Daley's official photographer, a job he held for five years until the mayor died. Since then he's done commercial and portrait work.

His Vietnam photos were published in army newspapers, but only recently has he exhibited them publicly. Kondor's combat photos are on view this Saturday and Sunday, 11 AM to 7 PM, at his studio, 2141 W. Le Moyne. Call 342-2339 for more information.

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