On Thursday, September 12 at 7 pm, Scuppernong Books hosted photojournalist, Martin Tucker, to speak about his latest publication, ‘Vietnam Photographs from North Carolina Veterans.’
After an introduction of Martin Tucker as an, “award winning, Los Angeles Times photojournalist, with over 20 years of experience [during which] his photos have appeared in major publications, including The LA Times, The Washington Post, ‘US Weekly magazine’, as well as ‘The Winston Salem Journal,’ he took the stage.
In a room filled with mostly Vietnam War era veterans, Martin Tucker thanked the crowd for coming, made a few jokes and then proceeded to firstly explain that the book is not meant to be a reflection on politics, stating, “which is a good thing and that was a deliberate decision from the get go, 15 years ago”.
Martin Tucker went to school for photography at UCLA, and after graduation, worked in California briefly before coming to North Carolina in 1999.
Shortly thereafter, Tucker decided to move back to California to continue working for his former publication. It is then that a significant turn of events completely altered the course of his life and helped give birth to a 15 year project.
In the process of returning to California, Tucker rented a U-haul, packed his things and began his drive back to the west coast. When he woke up in an Arkansas hotel on September 11, 2001, he turned on the news, he called his editor, asking “what’s the status?” to which the reply was, “everything’s on hold.”
Then, Martin Tucker got back into his U-haul and headed back to Greensboro.
Eventually taking a job in the photography department at the Sawtooth School in Winston Salem, Tucker explained that, “the things [his students] were printing in the dark room were less than exciting…it wasn’t anything that was speaking to me”.
This sparked a need for inspiration and Tucker wondered, “if maybe some Vietnam vets might still have some black and white negs left from their tours and if they would loan us just a few of those negatives, I could pass them around to my students and let them print something that would really jump up at them once developed.”
After creating flyers to post around town, slowly, Tucker began receiving phone calls from Vietnam Veterans willing to share their photos.
Tucker made sure to explain to the Scuppernong crowd that he was often faced with reluctance and hesitation from the veterans, but eventually obtained so many photographs that he knew he was onto something, he was just, “trying to see where it would go”.
After forming a committee and gaining total support from the community, Tucker and his team scanned 400 photos, selecting only 60 and put up an exhibit.
Once the national NPR office in D.C. ran a story on the project, the exhibit began to travel nationally.
Eventually, this provided the opportunity for Martin Tucker to publish his book, which consists of a curated collection of these photos.
Most importantly, Martin Tucker noted the impact this project has had on Vietnam Veterans.
He shared that one of the contributors, while being interviewed about his photos, “had a hard time. When he walked up to his photograph, he just couldn’t take it, he broke down…but he pulled himself together and talked about his photographs. Not too long after that, he was ready to start to deal with all of this…”.
Martin Tucker’s book Vietnam Photographs from North Carolina Veterans, is available for purchase. If hadn’t had the chance be sure to visit his exhibit titled ‘A Thousand Words: Photographs by Vietnam Veterans’, it can be viewed at the North Carolina Museum of History.