Guam

My internet connection has been erratic since leaving Japan for Saipan a week ago.  I’m behind on posts.  Other setbacks have been the demoralizing disaster in Japan, after having just spent 18 wonderful days there and making new friends there, and the resulting cancellation of the Iwo Jima segment of my trip by the American and Japanese embassies.  Iwo Jima, which measures 4.5 miles from one tip to the other and 2.5 miles at its widest point (8 square miles), is only open to civilians one day per year.  This year that day won’t happen.  The embassies felt it would be a misuse of resources given the tragedy in Japan.  I’m in a group with some veterans of Iwo and when they heard the news they were devastated.  One veteran brought 7 family members with him.  They understood the reasoning, and agreed with it, but that understanding didn’t ease the pain.

With Iwo Jima out of reach, I’m heading home from Guam tomorrow, a few days short of my original plan.  26 days on the road is plenty, though.

One quick point:  I come away from the last week of hanging out with Pacific war experts and enthusiasts with a newfound belief in the importance of Smith’s war photographs.  First of all, like many fields, our appreciation and understanding of visuals isn’t very high; Charlie Chaplin said they invented talkies too early and the potential of silent films was never reached.  I saw an outstanding 2-hour presentation on Iwo Jima today by a man whose full-time job it is to an expert on the Pacific war and his visuals – drawn from extensive military archives – weren’t very strong.  They were filler for the words spoken and presented on Powerpoint charts and diagrams.  It’s not his fault – his overall presentation was exemplary; it’s a cultural problem.  Words dominate.  In the past week I’ve met dozens of war experts and aficionados and only one recognized W. Eugene Smith’s name, and that recognition was slight.  When I’ve shown Smith’s pictures here – some never published – eyes were opened.

Speaking of words dominating, I just tried to upload a few photos from Guam and it was taking forever (internet connection again).  This is indicative of the ghetto in which photography has existed all these years.  It’s too hard to present photos well (even though it’s easier now than ever).  Words are more convenient.  I’ll post some more photos when I’m back home in about 36 hours.

-Sam Stephenson

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