January 1969: Lê Minh Trường on the Hồ Chí Minh Trail in the Trường Sơn Mountains

PhotographerLê Minh Trường was one of the most venerated photographers in Vietnam during the second half of the twentieth century, recognized for his black-and-white photographs. A pioneering documentarian of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Trường famously developed his photographs while on location, carrying chemicals and china plates in his backpack and washing his prints in nearby streams and night.

Trường took the picture of a line of troops marching in the rain over the Trường Sơn mountains (fig. 1). These soldiers would have been part of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) from North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front (NLF) from South Vietnam. Troops moved continuously between North and South Vietnam through the Trường Sơn mountains, which provided welcome cover along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The journey could take anywhere from three to six months, made more difficult during the rainy season. Trường made the journey many times during his career as a war photographer.

Figure 1: Lê Minh Trường, 1969, Trúờng Sơn mountains, “Hành quân mưa (Marching in the rain).” Silver gelatin print on Ilford 11 x 14, 255 gsm, multigrade, semi-matte paper.

Due to inferior equipment and limited film – Vietnamese photographers did not have access to telephoto lenses –Trường constantly put himself at risk. During trench warfare in the South, Trường always followed the soldiers into the frontline firefights to ensure he would be close enough to take a picture.

Along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Trường was one of the only photographers to document the female bomb diffusers, some as young as teenagers. Not just a documentarian, Trường contributed to the moral of Vietnamese troops in his own way, showing compassion by sending photos of subjects home to their families for support.

Even after he had finished his film, Trường would not be free from danger. Often shooting behind enemy lines, he was required to walk back through enemy territory – sometimes as far as fifty miles – in order to relay film back to Hanoi.

Trường worked as a war correspondent and photographer for the Liberation News Agency and won first prize at the National Photography Exhibition of 1969 and 1971.

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