A native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Charlie Haughey grew up during the 1950s and 1960s working in carpentry shops and manufacturing with his father, Don Haughey. From a young age, Charlie had an affinity for writing, poetry, and photography. He built a darkroom in his basement as a boy, and taught himself photography techniques through experimentation and self education.
After finishing high school, Charlie began putting himself through college in Kalamazoo, studying art, before he ultimately dropped out and took a job in a sheet metal factory to save money for tuition. He states that shortly after dropping out of college to work, he received his summons from the US Army, right around the height of the Tet Offensive.
Charlie finished basic training at Tigerland, and was shipped to Tan Son Nhut Air Base and, later, Củ Chi Base Camp. He proceeded to walk point or flank as a rifleman for 63 days with Alpha Company of the 25th Infantry Division, 2nd battalion, 12th infantry. One day, he was called before his executive officer at Củ Chi, and informed that the battalion photographer had been wounded in action. The battalion needed a photographer to document the goings on of the units within the 25th. From that day forward, Charlie was field appointed as the battalion photographer, shooting photos of the men in various units. Charlie states that he "still carried a double basic load of ammunition and an M16 and two canteens of water," and when combat started, he put down his camera and picked up his rifle. He was a rifleman first, and a photographer second. During his 13 months as a rifleman with Alpha Company, he took nearly 3,000 images of his fellow soldiers, as well as helicopters, engineers, and civilians he encountered.
Charlie shot mostly Kodak Tri-X 400 speed film, which he purchased with his own money, as the Army issue Dupont film was unreliable and lacked quality and consistency. He processed his film in a makeshift darkroom built inside a shipping container Củ Chi. In addition to Tri-X, he purchased and shot rolls of Kodachrome and Ektacrhome slide film, which he mailed home to Michigan for processing, as he lacked resources for processing the finicky K-14 and E-6 process slide film. The majority of the photo collection is made up of Tri-X film, with a large percentage being DuPont film, and around 900 images made on color slide film.
After returning home to Michigan in the summer of 1969, Charlie put the photo collection away as "it wasn't a popular time to be a Vietnam veteran," and he feared the public reaction if he were to share his photos.
Charlie went on to have a successful life as a cabinet maker, raised two children in southern Michigan, and developed a deep love for sailboats and the art of sailing. Upon his retirement in 2010, he moved to Portland, Oregon, to be near his son and grandchildren. He rented a shop space at ADX Portland, a maker community in SE Portland. It was there that he shared the story of his hidden Vietnam War image collection with ADX shop steward Kris Regentin, who immediately recognized the value of the collection and urged Charlie to bring the photos out of storage. Kris assembled a team of volunteers to work on scanning, restoring, retouching, printing, and framing the photo collection. From the collection, the volunteer team built a 28-image gallery showing that opened to 1,000 viewers in spring 2013 in Portland, and received international press attention.
Following the press coverage, many subjects from the photo collection began to reach out to Charlie, and many reconnected with the photographer for the first time in nearly 50 years. The team produced a book of the photographs in 2015, and continues to work to publish, print, and show images from the collection.