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David Torcoletti

David Torcoletti, Untitled, from the series Soldiers, Archival Inkjet Print on Rag
Paper, 2007/2012.

Artist Statement
These images were made from photographs mailed to a South Vietnamese radio personality known in the 1970s as ”Mai Lan.” Every day, during the Vietnam War, Mai Lan broadcast to American troops stationed in Vietnam and visited wounded American soldiers in hospitals all around her country. She performed this work while employed by the United States military in an effort to raise the moral of the soldiers in the field.
During her broadcasts, she encouraged soldiers to send her photographs, and they did, by the hundreds. Often they were inscribed with simple, touching, and sincere declarations of appreciation. She was clearly a small piece of soft kindness in a very harsh, frightening, and unfamiliar place.

The images ranged from the 2” x 3” size that accompanied a high school portrait package to 3” x 3” color Polaroids and 3” x 5” black and white snapshots of life around the base. The soldiers seemed to consider carefully how they wanted to be seen. Often, they would pose with a weapon, or show themselves at work surrounded by the visual clues of a soldiers’ life.

Mai Lan was forced leave South Vietnam in a hurry as the North overran the South in 1975, and she had but moments to decide what objects to take with her. She chose a small box of photographs to bring along. The images were not stored well, and I would guess that many were not processed well either. Many also have suffered serious deterioration over the years.

In 2000, 25 years after she fled her home country, Mai Lan showed me the images, knowing I was a photographer, and that I might appreciate them. She looked right past their crumbling surfaces to see the faces of the soldiers whose morale she was charged with lifting.

I could see those faces, but for me, the power of these objects was in the way they were disintegrating, barely holding on to the original image while becoming something else entirely. They were now less specific to the individuals depicted and more about war and hope and a peculiar, distant “love” that sustained these men in impossible circumstances. This new form was what I wanted to share.

With her permission, I photographed a few dozen that I found most powerful in this state of deterioration. I used only the digital equivalents of the conventional tools of the trade: exposure, contrast, burning, dodging, color balance, and saturation. I neither added nor deleted any lines or shapes to the image. It was my work to emphasize certain aspects of the image; for example, raising the contrast or increasing the color saturation. All of these decisions were emotional and aesthetic.

Artist Bio
David was born in Leominster, MA. After high school, he attended Rhode Island School of Photography and then the Maine Photographic Workshops. He received a BFA in Photography from Ohio University, studying with Arnold Gassan, Joseph Marhsall, and Carson Graves. David has taught photography courses at Amherst College, Greenfield Community College, and Northfield Mt. Hermon School. While teaching at Northfield, David earned an MFA in photography from Bard College, studying with Ben Lifson. He also taught photography at Milton Academy.

David has won the Edna Way Award, as well as a Dean’s Achievement Scholarship at Ohio University and the Milton Avery Award at Bard College.

David has shown his photographs at the International Center of Photography, The Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Synchronicity Fine Arts in New York, Columbia College, and other galleries.