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Another communist disappears. Is there a copycat on the loose? From the jungle to high tech - the war continues. Will Visa pour l'Image win?

By Helle Maj, journalist and Jørn Stjerneklar, photographer

The response worldwide to our blog ”Aber Warum” has been fantastic. But before we indulge ourselves and sound like we are on the main stage in Perpignan together with Jean-Francois Leroy and wife addressing all of you, let's get down to Earth.

This is a follow up on 'ABER WARUM' about the photoshopped photo taken by the north vietnamese photographer
Doàn Công Tính and exhibited at Visa pour l'Image in Perpignan 2014.

First an admission: We showed what we thought was the original and compared it with the photo shown in Perpignan. A clever reader at our blog spotted what we should have seen immediately. The “original” picture is also photoshopped! Look at the waterfall to your left and you can see it. (bottom of the blog) So whodunnit?

Lets go back to Perpignan in 2014. There was an exhibition called “Ceux du Nord” with around 70 war pictures taken by Doàn Công Tính and three of his Vietnamese colleagues. The man behind the exhibition was the prize winning war photographer Patrick Chauvel.


Chauvel covered the Vietnam war himself and he has before, during and after Perpignan talked about how he found the four North Vietnamese photographers. In an interview with Angkor Photo in December 2014 he said:

“Last year (2013), I was invited by the French Embassy’s Cultural Service in Hanoi to talk about war photography and I wondered, “Hey, maybe some of them did survive”. I found four North Vietnamese photographers and they showed me their work. I was amazed because their works were fantastic.
I decided to show them to people because some of them were very famous and the pictures were probably seen by the other side- East Germany and Moscow but on this side, we’ve never seen them. The idea is to show the pictures taken from the Communist side to the world”.

Chauvel also explained that the hardest part was to go through the archives of the Vietnamese government.

“There are about 1,000 books with tiny pictures and Vietnamese captions, and we have to go through every book to make our choices. We made small prints of about 300 pictures, and we scanned these pictures in high resolution.
I have an editor who came with me, and another friend working on this project. There is also a lot of work in Paris, which involves cleaning the pictures which had lots of scratches and dust. When the North Vietnamese photographers saw the pictures again in Perpignan, they nearly didn’t recognize them because they were much better printed than the originals.
It took us a lot of work, but the pictures are so incredible that they have kept me going”.

Well, this story was so good that Patrick Chauvel managed to get his name on TV, print and online all over the world in 2014. Even New York Times wrote about him and his scoop.

Two well known photographers noticed these stories. Their names are Tim Page and Doug Niven.

Famous Vietnam war photographer Tim Page together with his colleague
Vo Ahn Khanh in 2001 © Doug Niven

In 1996 Doug Niven moved to Bangkok, Thailand, to get some fresh air after working five years for AFP in Cambodia. He got the idea to find out if there were any pictures from the Vietnam war taken by North Vietnamese photographers. From Bangkok he made more than 16 trips to Vietnam. According to him he found thousands of images, many of which had never even been made into prints.

He talked to Tim Page and the result of their work was the book '
Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side', the first published collection of images of the conflict made by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong photographers. The book was published by National Geographic Books in 2002, 12 years before Visa pour l'Image showed pictures of Vietnamese war photographers in Perpignan.


National Geographic News did an interview with Niven after the release of the book:

NG News: Isn't it odd that no one has thought of doing this before? The war was over more than a quarter of a century ago.
Niven: I also was surprised that nobody had done it before. When I first went to Hanoi, I expected that there had at least been a Vietnamese attempt to do this. There have been a few Vietnamese publications with pictures from the war, but never a comprehensive attempt to put all the war images together. There hasn't even been a North Vietnamese book on the war.

Some people are better than others to push a story. Doug Niven, and the famous Vietnam War photographer, Tim Page, worked hard to make an exhibition, a book and a documentary film about these photographers way back. The exhibiton was shown in Chicago, New York and Washington. The film was nominated for an Emmy (in 2002).

Two covers, 12 years apart. One is photoshopped, so yet another communist has disappeared.
But else there's an uncanny feeling of déjà vu…The picture is taken by Mai Nam in 1968.

But Patrick Chauvel sold the story to Visa pour l'Image in 2014 as it was a first. As though he had never seen that National Geographic 12 years earlier made the film 'Vietnams' unseen War'.

Last year Doug Niven wrote this comment on Lens after they published the pictures from Perpignan:

”This looks to be a wholesale extract of five-years' work I did with Tim Page in the form of a National Geographic book called "Another Vietnam" and an accompanying documentary, also by NatGeo, called "Vietnam's Unseen War". Even the prints as seen here were ones we made for our book and accompanying exhibition.”


Now if Doug Niven made the prints he then must be the man behind the photoshopping of Doàn Công Tínhs' photo with the scouts and the beautiful waterfall!

Mayday Press called Niven yesterday to get clarification.

He says that 70% of the pictures from Vietnam shown at Visa pour l'Image 2014 was the ones he scanned years back. He is slightly surprised that Patrick Chauvel has taken 'ownership' of the four photographers.


Niven tells us nobody knew about Doàn Công Tính when he by chance found him in Saigon (now HCMC) back in the nineties. Công kept his negatives in the worst possible way, either rolled up or lying loose. Many of them were severely damaged. But Niven did not scan the picture with the waterfall. Actually the first time he saw the picture was when it was exhibited in Perpignan 2014.

So who did the photoshopping? Who removed a communist, a rope and a boring waterfall and replaced it with a magical one? Last year when New York Times published the pictures from Perpignan the editor James Estrin was sceptical about Doàn Công Tínhs pictures:

”I asked him step by step how that first photo was taken since it does look like a movie still. He said this was the only way the guides could climb up and it was extremely treacherous. And there was no where else for him to stand than the rock that he was on. In the 2nd image he said they were under extensive shelling. He told me neither was set up.”

There is actually another photo from the situation. We are 99% sure it's the same location, same day etc. It hangs on the wall in Saigon's 'War Remnants Museum”. The museum which opened in 1975 with the name 'Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes' is today the most popular museum in Vietnam.


This picture is not photoshopped. So why photoshop the other picture?

Doàn Công Tính´s book “Moments” was published in 2000. The picture with the waterfall is only 'slightly' photoshopped at that time. Who then later 'improved' the already photoshopped picture we don't know. Could it be the 72 year old Doàn Công Tính himself being able to do this – even though he stopped being a photographer after the war in 1975? We asked him about the missing man in April and his only answer was: “The original was damaged”.

This scandal hits all of us.

The boss for the photo-department at the biggest Danish daily Politiken, a newspaper which has always had the best of the best photographers employed, like this years WPP winner Mads Nisssen, was yesterday quoted on their popular FB-site. Thomas Borberg is himself a well respected photographer:

»It’s utterly unacceptable to manipulate photos in the way this photographer has apparently done. If one of Politiken’s photographers were to tamper with a documentary photo in a similar manner it would result in immediate termination«.

And he continues with an attack on Visa pour l'Image:

»At the festival and when it was sold to us, the photo was presented as part of a documentary, authentic narrative. Which means that we should be able to trust the veracity of what we see. And that is impossible when things have been added to or removed from a photo. The problem is that we no longer know if we can trust any of the images coming from this photographer. In hindsight, this exhibit should not have been shown to the public in Perpignan. Visa pour l’Images is a festival for photo journalism – and for that reason alone we must be able to look at the pictures and be certain that we see a truthful representation of reality. When this is not the case it presents a serious problem. Of course this ought to be cause for reflection in the festival leadership - as it has been and will continue to be at Politiken. We all need to examine and discuss how we can prevent something like this happening again«

So where are we today? The two most respected institutions for documentary photography are now both tarred and we are just waiting for someone to bring feathers to be added.

Will WPP live up to their self acclaimed new standards? Will they look into former price-winners who got away with cheating?

We hope so – we also hope to hear from Perpignan and our colleague Patrick Chauvel. Maybe he can give the answer to whodunnit.

Extra material to study - click to see the big picture
Skærmbillede 2015-06-03 kl. 15.16.13

Follow up on this here

Full interview with Patrick Chauvel in 2014

Doug Nivens website about their project 'Another Vietnam'

New York Times 'Lens'

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