Warring Visions

Photography and Vietnam

Warring Visions

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 70 illustrations, incl.16 in color Published: December 2021

Author: Thy Phu

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Photography, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia

In Warring Visions, Thy Phu explores photography from dispersed communities throughout Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora, both during and after the Vietnam War, to complicate narratives of conflict and memory. While the visual history of the Vietnam War has been dominated by American documentaries and war photography, Phu turns to photographs circulated by the Vietnamese themselves, capturing a range of subjects, occasions, and perspectives. Phu's concept of warring visions refers to contrasts in the use of war photos in North Vietnam, which highlighted national liberation and aligned itself with an international audience, and those in South Vietnam, which focused on family and everyday survival. Phu also uses warring visions to enlarge the category of war photography, a genre that usually consists of images illustrating the immediacy of combat and the spectacle of violence, pain, and wounded bodies. She pushes this genre beyond such definitions by analyzing pictures of family life, weddings, and other quotidian scenes of life during the war. Phu thus expands our understanding of how war is waged, experienced, and resolved.


“Thy Phu presents a searing and moving lesson in unlearning US imperialism and its entanglement with photography. Through diverse visual archives, she brilliantly shakes core assumptions about photography and war, including the ‘Vietnam War’—actually an ‘American war’ in Vietnam—and what came to be its iconic photographs and overlooked images. Phu's careful work of upsetting imperial geographies and imaginaries of the Cold war (such as North/South) brings that war back home to the South Vietnamese diaspora in a way that presciently speaks to the current moment.” — Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, author of Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism

"In this elegant and insightful study, Thy Phu turns to Vietnamese photographers, considering journalistic work, personal and family photos, re-enactments, and artistic uses, all with the intent of exploring how Vietnamese people saw themselves and each other through the lens. From the homeland to the diaspora and back, she shows the power of photography to mobilize nations and communities, commemorate loss and absence, and provoke solidarity. What Phu finally shows, so powerfully and persuasively, is that Vietnamese people have always seen and been seen by themselves if not by others.” — Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer


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Thy Phu is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Toronto. She is coeditor of Feeling Photography, also published by Duke University Press, and Refugee States: Critical Refugee Studies in Canada. She is also author of Picturing Model Citizens: Civility in Asian American Visual Culture.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1075-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1036-4