“Photography as Propaganda in the Indochina War (1945-1954):
French and Vietnamese Perspectives”
Ph.D. Candidate in Art History
University of Wisconsin-Madison
The war between France and Việt Nam from 1946 to 1954 was not only fought with weapons but with photography. The internationalization of the Indochina War in 1950 brought photographs from Việt Nam to the fore. Both the French and Vietnamese armies had a photographic unit during the war, and their photographs were printed in newspapers and magazines, enhancing their political impact. This talk will consider the production of the French and Vietnamese sides. It will analyze the French Army operators’ photographs and their publications in color in the monthly Indochine Sud-Est Asiatique (Indochina South East Asian) and the Việt Minh’s production in their newspaper Cứu Quốc (National Salvation). To go beyond a binary understanding divided between the French and the Việt Minh, the presentation will include civilian photography by examining the first exhibitions dedicated to artistic photography that happened in Hà Nội in 1952, 1953, and 1954. The talk will show that photography was essential to French and Vietnamese propaganda. This resulted in an aestheticization of the war. By engaging with these three different productions, the presentation will demonstrate that despite being at war and having distinct styles, means, and ideologies, French and Vietnamese photographs avoided violent depictions of the war to impose a controlled, heroic, masculine, aestheticized representation of their side.
Marie-Agathe Simonetti is a Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Her research focuses on photography produced in Vietnam during the French colonization. Her dissertation, “Photography in Indochina: Politics, Press, and War in Saigon, Hanoi, and Paris, 1897–1954,” examines photography as politics from the French and Vietnamese perspectives. Her work studies photographs from the French empire and from Vietnamese revolutionaries, integrating the medium into the history and art history of Vietnam.
Marie-Agathe holds a M.A in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her M.A. thesis “The École des Beaux-Arts de L’Indochine : Victor Tardieu and French Art Between the Wars” won the University of Illinois at Chicago Outstanding Thesis and Dissertation Award. She also holds two B.A.s, one in Art History and one in Law from the University Lumière Lyon 2.
More broadly, her interests include French colonial art, Vietnamese painting and the French colonial empire. Her research has been supported by the École française d’Extrême-Orient, UW-Madison’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, the Graduate School and the Art History department.