Vo An Khanh

Vo An Khanh was born in 1936, in Ninh Quoi, Hong Dan, Bac Lieu Province, Vietnam. He was a farmer and made a living from fishing. In 1956, American forces caught his elder and younger brothers, triggering Vo An Khanh’s immediate departure for Ho Chi Minh City where he found himself working for the ‘Viet Long’ photo lab. In 1960, Vo An Khanh left behind his personal photo lab business (which he had by then created), wife and children to join the revolutionary cause of the North Vietnamese Communist Army, traveling to Khanh Hung, Tran Van Thoi and Ca Mau. During this time he worked as a local teacher in these areas, while also as secretary for the Printing Office of the ‘Van Cong’ (entertainment team). Vo An Khanh states ‘At that time we just did whatever we could because there were not so many people and I wrote text for propaganda.’

During this time Vo An Khanh often traveled with a guerrilla unit documenting the front line of the Vietnamese resistance against the US, moving through swamp and mud where mosquitoes and leeches would feast on the bare legs and feet of the soldiers. At times, Vo An Khanh would climb trees to get a better angle on the action, having to be particularly careful at all times of the film he was carrying. Film was irreplaceable and extremely limited. Working undercover in the Mekong Delta, much of Vo An Khanh’s images were never published during the war due to chronic shortages of ink by local papers, where the fastest turn around time was two days for the distribution of news. By 1961 he was managing the Photography Department of the local revolutionary cause, taking care of events of entertainment and their promotion and documentation. It was under these duties that Vo An Khanh staged a rare touring exhibition (1962-75) of photographs in the mangrove madness, providing an opportunity for the local community to witness the bravery of their fighting forces. (Zoe Butt)