Before we went on holiday, I read a really excellent novel by Tatjana Soli. The Lotus Eaters tells the story of three photographers coming from very different places covering the Vietnam war. I really do not want to say much. I will give you some teasers but seriously just read it.
No getting around the ghoulishness of pouncing on tragedy with hungry eyes, snatching it away, glorying in its taking even among the most sympathetic: "I got an incredible shot of a dead soldier/woman/child. A real tearjerker." Afterward, film shot, they sat on the returning plane with a kind of postcoital shame, turning away from each other.
On each assignment, she would question soldiers about what they had seen of Vietnam. There answers were strangely resistant.
Mostly, their worlds were sealed by perimeter wire and bunkers, bounded by the luxuries of C-rations, sodas, cigarettes. They lived in a universe limited to their weaponry and machinery, their chain of command, and so in the most fundamental sense it did not matter in which country they fought. They were immune except to the most basic facts of topography and weather. Vietnam was not mysterious to them, not the history or the land or the yellow faces. Uncovering the secret of place was considered nonessential.
Looking around, she wondered how she had gotten there, why she needed this. Such a cliche to expose the war, or even wanting to test oneself against it. ...Nothing she would do, including photographs, could have any effect on it.
The fastness of the jungle struck her again in all its extraordinary voluptuousness, its wanton excess. It enchanted. Time rolled in long green distances, and she took comfort in the fact that the land would outlast them, would outlast the war - would outlast time itself.
From the dim stairwell, she noticed for the first time that the wood at the back of the door was black with oxidation; one of the panels had a hairline split through which sunlight showed. From outside the door had appeared sound, unbroken, and it was only her unlimited time that allowed her to notice this.
All quotations from The Lotus Easters by Tatjana Soli (New York: St Martin's Griffin, 2010). Image from Google Images.