April 18, 1983 12:00 PM

by Tim Page

Most GIs who encountered him in Vietnam thought Page, an English free-lance photographer, was crazy. For one sufficient-in-itself reason, he didn’t have to be there and he was. He was like many of his young journalistic colleagues, a dilettante of war, for whom violent extremes created a kind of primal sporting event. Even now, 14 years after a mine blew away part of his brain and ended his career in the field, he writes that Vietnam “was the only scene/war we had and we were enmeshed above our heads in it; the camaraderie, the sheer adventure of it all, were the biggest isms that could ever frag our hearts and minds.” The use of “frag”—meaning to blow up, from “fragmentation grenade”—is typical. In the text accompanying these 93 examples of his Vietnam photographs, Page uses a sometimes impenetrable jargon. The language lends a time-warp quality to the book, as does the fact that Page, now 37 and free-lancing out of London and Los Angeles, has waited so long to publish. In any case Page’s photographs are still penetratingly vivid and powerful. There is, strangely, almost no blood in the pictures; perhaps unfortunately, for reasons of taste, major publishers rarely print explicitly gory photographs that show war at its truest, most sickening moments. But Page was a master at capturing instants of transition. In most of these pictures, something horrible has just happened, or is about to. And that’s what war is like. (Knopf, $14.95)

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