The National Veterans Art Museum is excited to present The Lost Children of Chon Thanh, our newest exhibition of then-and-now photographic portraits by Bob Shirley and Reed Young.
In 1969, U.S. Army medic Bob “Doc” Shirley worked in a temporary clinic in the village of Chon Thanh, providing medical care to the local people. During that time, he captured poignant images of some of the children he treated.
Over 40 years later Larry Johns, curator of the current exhibition, saw Shirley's haunting portraits and began to wonder whether any of these children had survived, and what their lives were like now. Johns had lost a brother who was serving at a remote artillery post near Chon Thanh and had been trying to seek out people who might have had a connection with his brother during the war. Johns and his Vietnamese wife began a two-year search for the 'lost children.' With the help of New York freelance photographer, Reed Young, and others, they were able to find 16 'kids' who had survived.
Johns listened to stories and made emotional connections with the now-adult subjects, many of whom had became farmers with children and grandchildren of their own. Meanwhile, Reed Young– whose colorful portrait essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, National Geographic, TIME magazine, and NPR–created stunning new portraits of the 'children.' The Lost Children of Chon Thanh contrasts enlargements from Bob Shirley's exceptionally well preserved 1969 original 35mm Ektachrome slides with Reed Young's present-day high definition digital images printed on metal.
NVAM Executive Director Brendan Foster states, “The Lost Children of Chon Thanh" provides us with an intimate and moving look at at the lives of children growing up in the midst of war, and how that experience shaped their lives in the present day. Even more, the exhibition honors the love of a sibling for his fallen brother while celebrating the joy of the new relationships it helped create."
Curator, artist and veteran, Larry Johns notes, "Had I known up front what the unlikely chance of success in locating any of these children actually was, I am certain I would never had started the process. It was only through a combination of extraordinary luck, coincidence, and unlikely turns of events, that this search was successful. With so many links in a long chain, without any one of them, the process would have dead-ended. It is difficult for me not to feel my brother's hand in this incredible endeavor. To be able to exhibit these photos at the National Veterans Art Museum really brings this project full-circle and allows us to not only share our journey of reconnection, but also offers viewers insight into the experience of Vietnam veterans like Bob Shirley and a glimpse at the lives the now-grown children of Chon Thanh."
The exhibit will be on display from Tuesday July 31st through Saturday September 22nd at the National Veterans Art Museum.