Published in Panhandler Issue 3
Valerie George received her Masters in Fine Arts from the University of California at Davis. Her work has been exhibited internationally at the Casa De Dona in Barcelona, Spain, The Sarai Media Lab in New Delhi, India, and the Horse Hospital in London, England. Nationally, her work has been shown at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York, NY, Adobe Books and San Francisco Arts Commission in San Francisco, CA and Forum Gallery located at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Valerie currently teaches Sculpture at the University of West Florida and lives and works in Pensacola, Florida and San Francisco, California. She will be lecturing the summer of 2009 at Stanford University. To view all of Valerie George’s work, please visit http://www.valeriegeorgeart.com.
Recovering Joyce: In The Air Force is a body of work derived from the estate of my late aunt, Betty Joyce Brown. I did not know her intimately, but after her death I had the opportunity to archive the photographs that she took over the last forty years of her life. Not only did I discover that Aunt Joyce was an ardent photographer, but she was also a well-traveled woman, a racecar driver, and a highly esteemed captain in the United States Air Force Nursing Corps during the Vietnam War.
There is no exact number of how many women served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Their experience is virtually exempt from the documentation of the war. This knowledge is what moved me to recreate and re-contextualize this personal and visual narrative for a contemporary audience.
I salvaged 24 images from the pile of photographs she took while in Vietnam. I was surprised to discover her images entirely lacked any of the horrors usually found in wartime photography. Instead, they comprise an intimate document of the gender structure of the military at that time, and the nurses’ attempts at normalcy within a chaotic climate. Here, I provide eight photos that best encapsulate the gender politics of the military, the sense of camaraderie, and how she personally navigated the traumas of war.
The broader setting of the images oscillates between the tropical exterior landscape of Vietnam and the interior space of the nurses’ barracks which were decorated entirely in pink, from pink walls and carpets to pink sheets, blankets, and towels. This is offset with the constant presence of army-green jeeps, tents, helmets, and fatigues. Within these complex backdrops are images of women trying to perform their “femininity” and maintain a sense of normalcy amid the un-represented chaos that obviously existed in a wartime hospital and that is conspicuous in its absence. As a whole, her photographs provide an interesting and touching account of the rare perspective of a woman’s experience in the male theater of war.
The following images are representations of the 14-inch-in-diameter, digital-ink-jet prints. In their original presentation, they are laminated and mounted on Plexiglass disks.