May 25, 2014

The Rare Memorial Day Photo: Balancing Remembrance with Just a Holiday

The perennial problem with Memorial Day is how to reconcile the memorializing with (welcome, Summer!) a more generic holiday. The fact that so many American workers are being ground to the nub makes it that much more understandable to just to cut loose, to enjoy one’s freedom (yes, that so many fought and died for) and not have to think of much else.

What I admire about these photos by Getty’s Nicholas Kamm — taken at the Vietnam Memorial at the start of the weekend — is how fully they capture and balance both themes. Notice the hard separation between darkness and light, between the world of mourning and the invitation of the sky, bottom and top dividing the occasion in two. Of course, the bodies buzzing back and forth in the foreground — especially the colorful, triangular skirt, as if floating in slices, then seeming to blend into the blue as it tops the rectangular wall — captures the more unburdened bustle. Nice, too, are the contrasting views of the man in the pink shirt — life really a continuous flip book of moments. On top, he’s thoroughly absorbed in the Memorial. In the second, maybe he’s looking at the notes and the bouquets left at the base. But now, like many of us, he’s moving somewhere between the object of remembrance and the rest of the world. What I found most poignant, however, is the glimpse of the vet. In the top photo, he’s heading toward the wall. Then, like so many of his brethren, he’s vanished.

(photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images. caption: People visit the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington on May 23, 2014, three days before Memorial Day to remember those who have fought for the country.)

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Michael Shaw
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