In Focus: Lance Nix’s Wonderful Life Of Photos
Anyone with a camera can take a picture. Ubiquitous mobile phones mean pretty much everyone carries a glowing gadget they can point and record things on. But not everyone has the eye to take a photograph that reveals something essential. We are delighted to feature the work of Lance Nix, a man whose photographs of growing up in Fresno, California, in the 1950s, serving in the Vietnam War, dating, playing, taking road trips and getting on with life are evocative, sensual and textual. Lance’s sublime pictures take us to specific, fleeting moments in time. Together they form a portrait. Don’t look for a story – just imagine one between the pictures.
And we need your help. Are you or someone you know in one of these pictures? Do you know Lance from your own time in Vietnam? If you do, please get in touch. It matters. Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel helps us know why:
“You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all… Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.”
All words from here on, including the must-read captions, are from Lance. Follow the links at the end to see Lance’s incredible pictures of his time in Vietnam, including pictures of his time at the Embassy House.
I’m a second generation Fresno native. I spent my youth in east Fresno. Attended John Burroughs Elementary School 1949 t0 1956, Yosemite Junior High School 1956 to 1959 and finished up at Theodore Roosevelt High School beginning fall of 1959, graduating June 1962. I attended Fresno State College (its name back then) as did both my parents. I started at FSC fall of 1962 and finally graduated January 1968 with a B.S. degree in Accounting.
Fresno’s famous ‘Dragging the Main’ on Fulton Avenue in old down town Fresno ended about 1964 with the construction of the current Fresno Mall. The Dragging the Main phenomenon moved to west Belmont between Blackstone at the east end to about Palm on the west end. Most of my college years were spent partying on weekends, dragging the main on West Belmont and street racing out on North Blackstone and on Shaw Avenues. Cars were a big thing back then.
My number had come up with the draft before my Jan 1968 graduation from FSC so I worked a part time job until I was finally inducted into the U.S. Army early June of 1968. By the end of October 1968 I was en-route to the Vietnam War. I was assigned to MACV Team 66 in the Mekong Delta as a member of the PHOENIX Program. October 1969 I returned from Vietnam and was assigned to a training unit with the 5th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, Colorado. I finished my service there and finally got my honorable discharge early June of 1970.
I returned to Fresno a civilian again and found jobs scarce. I finally got a job with Fresno County and started work early November of 1970. By 1972 I had gotten married and the end of 1972 I got a job with Santa Barbara County and my Fresno years came to an end. I finished out my working years on the California coast retiring in 2002 and moving to our current retirement home up on the southern Oregon coast in 2005.
At the Lutheran Church in Easton in 1948
My mom (on right) and her best friend in the small town of Easton south of Fresno, California, late in the fall of 1948. My mom is holding my little sister and I’m sitting far left on the steps next to Barbara Lynn.
Dads Model A at 4690 E White Fresno in 1956
My little sister standing in front of my dad’s work/commuter car. This is shortly before dad sold this car. The replacement, a little green Austin, is seen intruding into the picture from the left.
Swell Time Ice Cream East Fresno circa 1950
Lance buying a nickle baggy. Back in 1950 when “street pushers” sold ice cream, not drugs. In Fresno, California. (scanned negative) (photo taken by Andrew L. Nix)
Ready for church at 4690 E White Fresno circa 1956
Dressed for church in front of the family’s 1953 Pontiac at the family home in Fresno, California. Photo copywrited and owned by the Nix Family Trust. Misuse at your financial peril. Old colour slide taken by my dad.
Parakeetus gigantia late 1950’s
Our pet parakeet co-operated for this staged photo with my model skeleton.
Boomer Larvae circa 1956
Nancy with her friends. In our front yard at 4690 East White in Fresno, California
2ND GRADE, November 1951, Fresno, CA
John Burroughs Elementary School, Fresno City Unified School District, Fresno, California.
I be top row third from left. My first ever girl friend, Judy Kelly, the blond the third photo to the right of me. Directly below me is Sharon Stasio and below her is Yukio Mizumoto. Upper left hand corner is Mike Mauldin who I remember as an exceptionally calm and nice kid
17 Nov 1962 Fresno Parade–02LR
On Van Ness at the Tulare Street intersection in Fresno, California. The Chester Rowell Building is in the background. These are the Roosevelt High School letter girls.
English Class Roosevelt High School Fresno in 1961
Debbie was a great gal and a casual friend with whom I shared at least a couple of classes.
Roosevelt High School, Fresno, 1961
This was the front (north side) of the campus that faced on Tulare Street in east Fresno. Across the street was the atypical malt shop complete with a counter and round stools and many booths.
Chris summer of 1962
Chris was the cousin of my best friend in high school. She was tall, lean and of Danish heritage. She graduated Roosevelt H.S., Fresno, in 1963.
udy and Lance — 22 March 1963_
Me at age 18 predictably with a red-head. I would go on in future years to marry a red-head also named Judy.
Pictures I (well not this particular shot) took at a small spring-time social mixer for students at Fresno State College back in 1963.
Ernie, Doug, Steve and Bert — 22 MAR 1963
Ernie Kinney went on to become a well-known passionate defense attorney in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley of California. He died of leukemia April 30, 2008. Doug Krikorian went on to become a sports writer and TV commentator in southern California. Steve Cloud went into business after college and rose to become president of Fresno Distributing in 1993. I don’t know what became of Bert.
Pictures I took at a small social mixer for students at Fresno State College. Taken with a Mamiya C-2 twin lens reflex with the Mamiya Sekor f:2.8 80mm lens.
Encounter with the Law — 23 March 1963
While out horsing around on a overcast Fresno morning the Fresno County Sheriff’s units stopped to check out our “suspicious” activities. All ended peacefully when they learned we were just a bunch of harmless college boys.
Future sports writer Doug Krikorian seen shaking the Deputy’s hand
West Fresno Dari-Delite about 1964–img290
Drive -by shooting of the Dari-Delite franchise in old west Fresno, California.
SANTA MONICA 28 March 1964
Photo project for state college photo journalism class back in 1964.
Mom’s 1964 bay blue T-Bird in May 1965–img002
My mom bought it used in 1965 complete with the fancy chrome wire wheels. It had been in a minor wreck so she got a great deal. It was a very reliable, trouble free car, not always the case back in those days, She put a lot of miles on it and kept it meticulously clean. Then in 1971 she fell in love with a Mercedes 250 and the T-Bird went bye-bye.
Ventura & Cedar Fresno circa 1965–04
A 1957 Buick Special, single car accident in 1965 at Ventura & Cedar Ave, Fresno, California.
These were free-lance pictures taken for Fresno’s newspaper, the Fresno Bee from about 1960 through to about 1966.
1200 Block Blackstone Fresno in about 1965
This car is a near new 1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass at Blackstone and Olive in Fresno, California, in about 1965.
Shark Mobile Road Trip 1966
Not really. The guys were just joking in this staged photo back in 1966. Students at Fresno State College in one of the dormitories just west of the campus. This old Dodge panel truck was just for limited local travel.
From pictures I took in my college years in Fresno, California.
Road Trip to San Felipe, Baja, in 1966
On Spring Break in 1966 and I and 4 college buds took a road trip from Fresno down to San Felipe, Baja, in a 1962 Chevy Imapala. But after about a hundred miles we realized 5 big college boys and their luggage was more than the suspension of the Impala was ready to handle so we stopped in Taft, California, home to one of the boys, and bought some overload springs. Seen here installing said springs.
Road Trip to San Felipe, Baja, in 1966
On Spring Break in 1966 and I and 4 college buds took a road trip from Fresno down to San Felipe, Baja, in a 1962 Chevy Imapala. Here we are stopped on the highway out in the Baja desert on the last leg of our journey.
Bob the Real Deal PRO 3y
Lance – I find this photo very strange – the car is 4 yrs old and not hot rodded at all . I don’t think your buddies were into cars like you , if it was yours , it would have a nice stance and cool mag wheels
Greg Bishop PRO 3y
What a change today. Invaded by bad guys and a city with growing pains and throngs of tourists. Would have been the perfect time to keep exactly as it was (except add digital cameras :).
Lance Nix PRO 3y
Bob the Real Deal You be right, Bob. They were a conservative bunch. Tom (down to the right), the car’s owner, went on to become a CPA. Nick (back to picture) drove a stock 1964 Chevelle convertible (283 2-barrel with 2-speed auto trans) and became manager for one of those mega farms south of Lemoore. Syd (standing left) drove an old MGA which he never washed or waxed and went on to become a big wig with the IRS in San Jose. And Lee (butt view only) never had a car that I remember and I don’t know what became of him. Not a gear head in the bunch.
Fresno State College girls 1966
College girlfriend in July of 1967
She made the bathing suit herself as she did most of her clothes. She posed for me on this colorful bed at a friend’s house. For some reason her beautiful red hair came out looking dark brown in this color slide.We started dating in early 1965 and spent 5 good years together.
I worked autonomously for most of my tour in Vietnam. My commanding officer laid out my basic duties and I was often called upon to do a wide variety of extra-curricular duties. The result was I never spent a lot of time with any one person and the bonds that sometimes form in a war did not occur. I was the only one doing my basic job so no shared camaraderie and I worked alone 95 or more % of the time. The two people I spent the most time with were my commanding officer, Major Wolfgang Hertwick and Captain John Kozak. Both were career military officers while I was a short term draftee enlisted man so right away a more academic relationship.
Major Wolfgang Hertwick was a German and spoke with a German accent although it was not that pronounced. He was what is called a “maverick”, a soldier who served as an enlisted man before becoming an officer. Generally if you are going to be an officer they establish that when you enlist. Anyway the Major was a delight to serve under, a sharp and analytical mind and an almost constant sense of humor. To allow me more leeway and freedom from the formalities of the military (saluting officers, etc) he insisted I wear civilian clothes when I was not otherwise engaged in more serious activities requiring I be armed. And that generally only occurred at night when the VC would come out and shoot at us or when we had to go out and man the guns at an outpost in the boonies for a night.
Captain John Kozak was from Kansas as I remember. He was a graduate of West Point, our elite officer training school. He was about my age, 24 at the time. His demeanor was more serious than the major. He was second in command with the Dinh Tuong Province Phoenix Program. We did a few after hours or day off activities together but we never formed a long term friendship. The nature of the beast. Passing acquaintances as you travel the path of your career. And my lone wolf personality does not aid in establishing close, long-term friendships. From my early childhood to the this present day I have pretty much been very happy to be a loner. In that respect my duty with the Phoenix Program was well suited to my personality as was my career as the financial officer in charge of a division of a government health agency.
Goofing Off at Fort Ord Aug 1968 Members of my basic training unit, 2nd Platoon A-4-1. I entered the U.S. Army on June 12th, 1968, and was sent immediately to Fort Ord, California, to begin basic training in what became my “new home” for over 4 months. Then it was off to Vietnam.
After a day and a half of reading the old letters a very clear picture of my Vietnam experience has been fleshed out. Basically things were quite different from the picture painted by my current fogged memories. And the reality of the times makes more sense than the idealilzed environment of my current memories.
The first thing that popped out was that I was, in fact, working a lot more than I remember… often working 12 to 14 hour days and generally working 6 1/2 days a week with only a half day off each week on Sunday. But it was apparent I was not in distress over it given it was work I was good at and very capable of doing. And there were occasional breaks in this work schedule with a day or two extra off when things temporarily got slow.
Next it is clear my times of going out for picture taking were a lot fewer than I remember. And that really makes sense. Were I out taking pictures as often as I have been imagining I would now have a lot more pictures than I actually do.
And in one letter I lamented that since I was working alone most of the time I would be one of the very few soldiers coming home from the war with no buds to share and relive the adventure with when I got home. And that’s at least one reason my memories are so blitzed. I didn’t think much at all about my time in Vietnam for decades. It’s that remembering and reviewing those times when you get back that cements them solidly in your memory. I was not doing that and the memories faded to the point that even my pictures can’t fully and accurately revive them. What’s really bad is I do not remember a lot of what went on as detailed in my letters. One thing for sure I and the others were doing a fair amount of drinking at the end of the day but not in excess. I absolutely do not remember any of that.
As to Major Hertwick, one letter gave me the idea that he might end up retiring to his native Germany when the time came which might explain why I have not been able to find him in my Internet searches here in the U.S.A.
PFC L. V. Nix (U.S.Army) at the Embassy House in My Tho, Dinh Tuong Province, Vietnam IV Corps, in December of 1968. A charter member of the PHOENIX Program after its transfer by the C.I.A. to the U.S. Army in 1968.
River Front Kids in 1969
At the Mekong River front in southeast My Tho, Dinh Tuong Province, Vietnam.
Mission Beach San Diego August 1970
At loose ends after my discharge from the U.S.Army I wondered around California for about 4 months before I finally landed a civilian job. I ended up at my cousin’s place in Mission Beach for a week or so during that time.
Back near the end of the height of the hippy movement in California’s Bay Area. I was in town to see a friend on a weekday in October of 1970 and had an hour to kill so I walked around the notorious University of California at Berkeley campus to see if the stories were true. These pictures show it was indeed a place to see many interesting people influenced by the Hippy Movement both in their style of dress and in their actions.
Hawking Art in March of 1971–img119
On weekends in the 1970’s artists could set up”shop” near the beach in Santa Barbars to sell their art work.
Winos @ the beach in March of 1971–img118
Santa Barbara’s nice climate made it a mecca for the so-called homeless back in the early 1970’s.
New bride at the wheel, April 1972
My new bride driving my ’68 Dodge Dart GTS headed for Hoover Dam on a honeymoon tour that eventually got us down to San Felipe, Baja.
She was number 3 of the 4 most significant women in my life. Even though our marriage only lasted 9 years we parted as friends and she remains a dear friend to this day staying in touch via E-mail and an occassional phone call.
Hunting Bugs – May 1977
Here I am catching some sample bugs to take back to a friend working as an entomologist for the State of California.
I and my old childhood friend made a number of trips to explore various old mining areas in northern Nevada. These pictures are from the trip we made in May of 1977 to the area just southeast, east and northeast of the Black Rock Desert. Jeep Trail in northern Nevada – May 1977
Inching down a very rough trail to flat lands below. The Ramcharger made it easy.
High in the desert mountains of northern Nevada southeast of the Black Rock Desert.
In December 1978, Both I and my life long friend were under stress at our respective jobs and decided we just needed to escape for a week. Against our better judgement we decided to return to the solitude of the desert even though winter had set in. As it turned out it was a good decision. I was cold but we were prepared and it was one of our better trips.
At Bonita Springs – Dec 1978
At the southern edge of northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. (scanned color slide)
Nevada Desert Trip, 1979
Ancient Tree – Oct 1979
Northern Nevada desert. (scanned color slide)
Holy Oldie – Oct 1979
Unlike southern California’s desert, abandoned vehicles were few and far between in the northern Nevada desert. Even though I and my buddy were gun nuts we found no satisfaction in shooting up the relics we found in the desert. In fact it rather pissed us off and we probably would have shot anyone we had caught doing so. We, in fact, did have an encounter with this total jerk idiot shooting up an abandoned car in the hills above Santa Barbara. We convinced him it would be good for his health to “saddle up” and move on. My crazy buddy was ready to shoot him but there were a number of witnesses nearby. But we were appreciatively cheered by those potential “witnesses” after the idiot shooter packed up and moved on. When that happened by buddy remarked disgustingly “Hell. I should have just shot him after all.” Great memories. It’s one of my favorite selfies. I still have that Pendleton shirt but I ditched the long hair years ago..
Aug 2015–Behind TJs Cafe–Port Orford, OR
Old friends from my hometown, Fresno, CA, stopped by and took this snapshot of the missus and I in a vacant lot behind the restaurant where we had breakfast. The broken down California truck made a great prop for the picture.
Grandma with Grand Kids.
Veterans Day 2014. Fort Ord, CA
Back in uniform after 45 years and posing with my kid sister.
At the 5th Annual Veterans Day celebration sponsored by the Friends of the Fort Ord Warhorse and the City of Marina. This years event was in honor of the veterans of the Vietnam War.
If you were in Vietnam with Lance, please do get in touch. More here:
A GI’s Stunning Photos Of My Tho, Vietnam In 1969
Life At The Embassy House, South of Saigon, Vietnam, 1968-1969