One photo -one frozen moment in time that led to a lifetime connection between photographer and subject.
Good Morning and Welcome to MOT- Morning Open Thread
To take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt. ~ Susan SontagNothing could be more accurate than the above quote regarding the story surrounding the photo taken in 1972 Vietnam by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Nick Ut of a naked nine year-old Kim Phuc running down the road in agonizing pain from a napalm spraying by a South Vietnamese pilot.
That early June afternoon photographer Nick Ut was there to capture the fleeing families and children - all screaming in terror and far far too many screaming in pain. Many of the other photojournalists had already left and of the few remaining, fellow AP photographer David Burnett was having trouble loading film into his camera.
In an interview last September with Michael Zhang, Nick Ut, who earned a Pulitzer Prize for that photo, said he first spotted Kim Phuc's grandmother who was running with her one-year-old grandson in her arms and shouting for help. When she was about 50 yards away she stopped and all the other photographers and TV cameras began taking shots of the baby, who died in that instant.
I remember looking through my Leica at the boy when he died. As I was shooting, I saw in the corner of the viewfinder a girl running with her arms stretched out to the sides. I thought, “Oh my God,” and began running at her and shot all of my pictures.The opportunity for the perfect shot had passed by the time seasoned AP journalist Burnett was up and shooting again. Once he saw Nick's photos, he personally phoned The New York Times and Time magazine telling them that Nick Ut had the best photo.
Nick Ut grew up in Vietnam, one of ten sons and one daughter of a farmer and a homemaker. Nick's older brother was an AP photographer and a CBS cameraman who was killed in 1965 during an assignment. Nick began then, not yet even 16, pestering the AP for a job - the AP finally relented a year later and hired Nick. Using his brother's Leica, Rolliflex, and Nikon cameras Ut began learning his trade in earnest. Later the AP gave Nick a M2, M3, and two Nikon Fs and he began carrying four cameras on every assignment.
In the immediate aftermath of shooting the photo of Kim Phuc, Nick Ut noticed as Kim passed him that her left arm was burned badly and the skin was peeling off of her back. He stopped shooting pictures and ran to help her.
I had water, so I put water on her body. I then put my four cameras down on Highway One, and began helping her. I borrowed a raincoat to cover her, and then started carrying her. Her uncle said, “Please help the kids and take them to the hospital.” I replied, “Yes, my car is right here.” I put all the kids in my car right away.Traffic was heavy on the way to the hospital as Nick urged the driver to "hurry, hurry". Once they arrived the hospital was overflowing with bodies of the wounded and dying. Ut ran inside for help and when a nurse saw Kim and the other burned children said said:
In the van with my driver, every time I looked at Kim, she was saying, “I’m dying, I’m dying.” She was telling her brother that. “Brother, I think I’m going to die.”
“Normal medicine cannot help. We cannot do anything.”After his humanitarian duties were finished Nick hurried back to Saigon to develop his photos. The editor on duty was concerned about the fact that Kim was naked and worried that the media would not want the photo. He chose the one shot and made a 5 x 7 print and conferred with two other editors who agreed that the photo was not suitable due to the nudity.
Then I showed her my media pass, and said, “If these kids die, you’ll be in trouble tomorrow.” Once they knew I was media, they carried Kim inside right away.
When Ut's boss arrived he wanted to know who had shot the pictures then asked Nick the details of the incident. He selected several and yelled for the editors to provide captions for those he'd chosen, he said he'd let New York make the call on using the photos. There was no mistaking the power in the photo and New York ran it without hesitation.
The picture was immediately on the front page of every newspaper and on TVs. The newspaper called me and said, “Nicky, good job. Congratulations. Good picture.”The photo first won the World Press Photo and shortly after the Pulitzer Prize. Nick Ut was 19 years old.
The next day, there were anti-war protests all over the world. Japan, London, Paris… Every day after that, people were protesting in Washington DC outside the White House. “Napalm Girl” was everywhere.
Joe McNally received an assignment several years ago from LIFE magazine to find and photograph subjects of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs. McNally found Kim Phuc living in Toronto, Canada.
Kim was allowed later in life to relocate to Cuba in order to further her education. While there she met a fellow Vietnamese student, Bui Huy Toan with whom she fell in love and married. On their honeymoon to Moscow in 1992 their plane stopped in Canada where the two defected and were granted political asylum. Kim, her husband and two children, Thomas and Stephen currently live in the Toronto area.
Kim spoke at the 1996 Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to thousands of war veterans, sharing her experiences after the napalm attack on her village. It was there she met the pilot who coordinated the air strike on her village and forgave him and also there she met Ron Gibbs, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Board of Directors for the Memorial Fund. They shared their experiences of the war and since and their hopes and dreams for the future. That event was the springboard for the concept that became The KIM Foundation International. The KIM Foundation is a private charitable organization that is dedicated to providing funds to support the work of international organizations that provide free medical assistance to children who are victims of war and terrorism.
Kim Phuc was designated the 1994 UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace, awarded the "Order of Ontario" in 2004 and is a recipient of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal.
Kim and Ut, who she calls "Uncle Ut" and is currently an Associated Press photographer based in Los Angeles, have remained in regular contact since that day in 1972, oftentimes speaking by phone weekly.
In Michael Zhang's interview with Nick Ut he asked Ut if he had a specific name for the photo he took of Kim. Ut's reply, "Terrible War".
Terrible War indeed, Mr. Ut.
The Historic 'Napalm Girl' Pulitzer Image Marks its 40th Anniversay - ABC news (excellent photos - then and now)