Saturday, July 19, 2014

World Press Photograph of the Year, 1972


Caution: Graphic and disturbing images in the items below.

I was undecided about showing these pics and some others that will come up in future Pulitzer awards but I decided that a study of award winning photos year by year is not mine to censor

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Between 1942 and 1967 a Pulitzer Prize for Photography was awarded for photojournalism, that is, for photographs telling a news story. 

In 1968 that award was replaced by awards in two new categories:

  • the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography (photography in the nature of breaking news); and
  • the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography (human interest and matters associated with new items).

From1955 World Press Photo has awarded prizes for the best photographs in 10 categories, with an overall award for the image that "... is not only the photojournalistic encapsulation of the year, but represents an issue, situation or event of great journalistic importance, and does so in a way that demonstrates an outstanding level of visual perception and creativity".

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Continuing a study of the winning photographs . . 

World Press Photograph of the Year

Year: 1972

Photographer: Nick Ut

Photograph: The young Phan Thi Kim Phuc and other children flee with severe burns caused by napalm, mistakenly dropped by South Vietnamese planes. The photograph has often been referred to as “Napalm Girl”

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The Image:

Nick Ut's famous and iconic photograph.

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The Photographer:


Huynh Cong Ut, known professionally as Nick Ut, was born in Vietnam and began taking photographs for Associated Press at age 16 just after his older brother, also an AP photographer, was killed in Vietnam. He himself has been wound three times, in the knee, arm and stomach.

In June 1972n Ut photographed burned children running from a napalm bombing, the children including a naked 9 year old Phan Thi Kim Phuc. The photograph was awarded the honour of World Press Photograph of the Year in 1972 and the Pulitzer for Spot News Photography in 1973. The story of that photograph and of the children appears below.



In September 2012 on the 40th anniversary of the above photo, Ut became the third person inducted into the Leica Hall of Fame for his contributions to photojournalism.

Ut’s induction into the Leica Hall of Fame
(Is it just me or is there a bit of a feeling of indifference and inappropriateness associated with the above pic, all the more so because of the horror contrasted with everyone having their backs to the suffering little girl.  Perhaps the award with a display to the side may have been better.)

Ut is today a resident of Los Angeles and still snaps away with his camera but there are interesting, and unsettling, aspects to his modern day career.

Ut achieved prominence again, this time in 2007, as the only photographer at a wild paparazzi melee able to grab a shot of a weeping Paris Hilton who had learnt she would be serving 23 days in jail for a traffic violation. The man credited with helping end the Vietnam War with his iconic photograph was now part of the paparazzi scrum intruding into private moments. 


One writer comments: 

In the intervening 35 years, much has changed in photography - and perhaps what's changed most of all is the way in which photographers view their subjects. It's a relationship that has become increasingly intrusive and increasingly unforgiving, with an ever-increasing number of photographers seeing their subjects merely as prey, to be captured in as much distress, or embarrassment, as possible. 
- John Preston, Nick Ut: “Double Negative”.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3670224/Nick-Ut-Double-Negative.html

Ut does not apologise, stating:

“To be honest, I don't really mind what I shoot, I'm just grateful to have the work. Also, “It's a strange feeling because I know I will never take another photograph that's as good as this - not as long as I live. When I look at my photograph of Kim and my photograph of Paris Hilton, I think they are both good pictures, in their way. I suppose the big difference is that I grew to love Kim, whereas… well, frankly, I don't give a damn about Paris Hilton.”

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Kim:

Kim Phuc and her family lived in the South Vietnamee village of Trang Bang, which had been attacked and occupied by North Vietnamese soldiers. When the village was attacked by South Vietnamese planes that were dropping napalm, Kim joined fleeing civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers. A South Vietnamese Air Force pilot mistook the fleeing group for enemy soldiers, diverted and attacked with napalm. Two villagers and two of Kim’s cousins were killed, Kim was badly burned, ripped off what remained of her burning clothes and ran down the road away from the place of the attack, yelling “Nóng quá, nóng quá” ("too hot, too hot").

After taking his photograph, Ut took Kim and the other injured children to a hospital in Saigon. Although Kim was not expected to live, she left hospital 14 months and 17 surgical procedures later. Ut continued visiting her and has remained a friend for life.

Kim Phuc and Nick Ut in 1989 in Havana, Cuba

Kim was evacuated when Saigon fell but remained in Vietnam and studied medicine. Used as a propaganda symbol by the communist Vietnamese government for a period of time, she converted to Christianity, married and, on her way to Moscow for her honeymoon, she and her husband defected in Toronto during a refuelling stop. She lives in Toronto with her husband and 2 children and is now a Canadian citizen. She has also established a foundation which seeks to provide medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war. 

She says that although she craved anonymity, the photograph kept her in the public eye. “I wanted to escape the picture because the more famous it got, the more it cost me my private life. It seemed to me that my picture would not let me go.” The realisation that she could use her prominence from the photograph inspired her to set up her foundation.




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The Photograph:

President Nixon commented on the tapes that he thought the photograph was “fixed”. Not so.

"Even though it has become one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century, President Nixon once doubted the authenticity of my photograph when he saw it in the papers on June 12, 1972.... The picture for me and unquestionably for many others could not have been more real. The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam war itself. The horror of the Vietnam war recorded by me did not have to be fixed. That terrified little girl is still alive today and has become an eloquent testimony to the authenticity of that photo. That moment thirty years ago will be one Kim Phuc and I will never forget. It has ultimately changed both our lives." 
- Nick Ut

According to Ut:

"...an editor at the AP rejected the photo of Kim Phuc running down the road without clothing because it showed frontal nudity. Pictures of nudes of all ages and sexes, and especially frontal views were an absolute no-no at the Associated Press in 1972...Horst argued by telex with the New York head-office that an exception must be made, with the compromise that no close-up of the girl Kim Phuc alone would be transmitted. The New York photo editor, Hal Buell [the head of AP’s Photography Department], agreed that the news value of the photograph overrode any reservations about nudity."

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Some other comments and information:

"In terms of war footage, America learnt its lesson from Vietnam. Now coverage of the war is so tightly controlled that few images make it onto the front pages of American newspapers.
Over the summer, weeks went by with scarcely a photograph from Iraq to be seen. However, the latest travails of Ms Spears were covered day after day in microscopic detail. The lesson was clear: when it comes to choosing between real or non-real life, the American media plump for non-real every time."
- John Preston, Nick Ut: “Double Negative”.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3670224/Nick-Ut-Double-Negative.html

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Warning: disturbing and graphic images:

In addition to Nick Ut's still photographs there is also film of the fleeing children, as well as Kim's grandmother carrying her dying grandson.  


This is just so sad.

Thumbnails of the film footage showing the events just before and after the iconic photograph was taken. The man in the top left image is probably Nick Ut.

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Nick Ut's famous photograph has been made into a sculpture entitled Cri by artist Adel Abdessemed.

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Photo taken a few seconds later. Photographer Christoopher Wain gives Kim water and pours water over her burns.

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Other images:

The photo was cropped for publication to add to its dramatic impact. The uncropped photo, however, only adds to the horror of the scene: a number of photographers and soldiers appearing indifferent to the horribly burnt, traumatised children and villagers; one soldier photographer who is close to the naked, burnt Kim seemingly interested only in his camera; the nonchalance and indifference juxtaposed with the pain of the children . . . 






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Nick Ut and Kim Phuc reunite in Washington in 2009.

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“Having known war, I know the value of peace. Having lived under government control, I know the value of freedom. Having lived with pain, I know the healing power of love. Having lived with poverty, losing everything and having nothing, I know how to value what I have. And the most important thing of all, having lived in hatred, terror, and corruption, I know the power of faith and forgiveness.”

- Kim Phuc



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