A Photo Teacher |

Thirty-Five Years Later

Posted in PHOT 167 by Paul Turounet on October 21, 2008


© Nick Ut, South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc (center left), as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, 1972

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On June 8, 1972 around 1 pm, two Vietnamese National Air Force Skyraider bombers (vintage aircraft from the Korean War) dropped explosive bombs on the village of Trang Bang. These initial bombs were soon followed by incendiary bombs which included a mixture of explosives, white phosphorous, and napalm. Within moments, many of the villagers seriously wounded and their skin burning, ran down a highway attempting to escape the horror of the fire-bombing. Standing on Route 1, Associated Press photographer Nick Ut made one of the iconic photographs of the Vietnam War, capturing a young girl (Phan Ti Kim Phuc, then 9 years old), naked from her clothes having burned off, running along with other children (including the girl’s brother on the left) as they attempted to flee the fire-storm of their village. Nick Ut would receive the Pulitzer Prize (the highest honor in photojournalism) in 1973 for the photograph and Kim Phuc would survive her horrendous injuries, undergoing 17 transplants and other operations.


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An extensive illustrated discussion (click here) of Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut and the photograph of Kim Phuc can be found on the website, TheDigitalJournalist.

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On Friday, June 8, 2007, hotel heiress Paris Hilton was sent back to jail in a celebrity justice fiasco and paparazzi frenzy. Ms. Hilton had been sent to jail on Sunday, June 3, to serve a 45-day sentence for probation violations stemming from a DUI conviction. Citing serious health concerns, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department fitted Hilton with an ankle tracking bracelet, confining her to house arrest for the rest of her sentence. On Friday morning, news of the “preferencial” treatment created a news and paparazzi bonanza as Hilton was required to return to court and was subsequently sent back to jail.

The widely-circulated photograph, including print, television and the internet, of a sobbing Paris Hilton being returned to jail was made by Nick Ut, nearly 35-years to the date of the photograph of a screaming Kim Phuc with her skin burning from the napalm bombing.

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   © Nick Ut/AP

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Aside from the surreal irony of two noteworthy photographs separated by thirty-five years being made by the same photographer, a number of questions come to mind.  This is not as much about Nick Ut and his outstanding contributions to photographing the human condition as much as it reveals a significant shift on the role, function and type of photographs that are used by media to satisfy the visual cravings of a public.  Consider and respond to the following:

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  1. What are your thoughts on a photographer that goes from capturing a significant moment that reveals a true horror of society and the human experience, war, and later on in a photographer’s life, to capturing a paparazzi moment?
  2. What are your thoughts on how society has shifted its attention and importance on these comings and goings of celebrities and less so on the more newsworthy moments?
  3. As the imagery of paparazzi photographers seems to be getting much more attention and circulation than that by photographers in Iraq and Afghanistan, what are your thoughts on the value of news photographs today?

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