Crossing the Frame: Western Women Photojournalists in Vietnam, 1961-1975

UoM administered thesis: Doctoral Thesis

  • Authors:
  • Georgia Vesma

Abstract

The Vietnam War marks a turning point in the history of women photojournalists covering war. Previous wars produced a small number of ‘star’ female photojournalists. However, the American conflict in Vietnam attracted unprecedented numbers of female photographers, mostly white and affluent, from the United States, France and Great Britain between the years of 1961 and 1975. This thesis examines how gender discourses shaped how American news audiences understood the war in Vietnam, and the role of female photojournalists in producing these discourses. Bringing together a large corpus of women’s photography taken whilst stationed in South Vietnam, this thesis explores how gender shaped most aspects of women photographers’ experiences in Vietnam.
Existing scholarship on gender and the Vietnam War privileges journalism, fiction, film and photography produced by men to inform analysis of how regimes of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ were produced and reproduced for audiences. This thesis uses women’s photojournalism to explore how American and Vietnamese combatants, civilians and children were understood through a gendered lens in the Western press. This thesis examines the distinctive conditions experienced by female photographers, a minority of the press corps in Vietnam during the war years. It considers how this rarity rendered women photographers more visible than their male counterparts, and the consequences of this visibility for their role in the industry. This study situates the female photojournalist as a distinct cultural figure, arguing that the unique position white women photographers occupied in Vietnam makes their work an important lens through which to understand how gender discourses shaped understandings of the conflict for audiences in America and Europe.
The thesis proposes a novel argument that women photographers ‘crossed the frame’ in order to become legible in their photographs. This ‘frame-crossing’ can be observed where publications included photographs of the women alongside their own work, where women produced self-reflexive photography, and where the contents of the photograph reveal the photographer’s presence. The thesis presents the theoretical framework of ‘crossing the frame’ as a way to understand why the photographer’s gender matters in photojournalism, while avoiding essentialist interpretations of their work. It proposes that gender was fundamental to the way these women were seen in Vietnam, and how they were presented to the western world while reporting stories from the frontline. The theoretical framework of ‘crossing the frame’ has broader implications for the study of women’s photojournalism beyond the scope of the American conflict in Vietnam.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Thesis sponsors
  • Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Award date2022