Lenseman: Witness to History

The photograph of napalm bomb victim in Vietnam, which made history in the US, and below, the photographer  Nick Ut of Associated Press

Nick UtSOME  NEWS  PHOTOS  CHANGE  HISTORY;  MANY OTHERS  record the making of history.

Having done photography along with reporting in my early days,  I was always interested in news photography.  Journalism books say a picture  is equal to 1000 words. That was why  in my  book, ‘A Town Called Penury – the Changing Culture of Indian Journalism’, I had a chapter on photojournalists.

As I mentioned there,  a photograph that played a major role in making most Americans oppose the Vietnam war and  forced the US  to abandon it,  was of a 9-year old Vietnamese running naked with burns all over her body after US troops dropped a napalm bomb on her village.

The lensman who took that stunning black-and-white Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph is Nick Ut, who is retiring this month after 51 years with The Associated Press (AP).  While some Indian cameramen were suspected to have caused some events (like protesters’ self-immolations) for ‘exclusive’ coverage, Nick put aside his camera and rushed the girl Kim Phuc and some others to hospital in the AP car to a  hospital.

When doctors there refused to treat her as it was a serious case, he had to show his Press card and tell them that their refusal would be in the headlines next day. The  doctors then saved her life. Kim, who became  famous as ‘Napalm Girl’ is a 53-year-old mother of two and  lives in Canada. She is still a close friend of Ut.

Ut captured many iconic images of the US atrocities in Vietnam though he was only 21 when he took that photo on June 8, 1972. The only photograph by an Indian lensman that comes anywhere near it is Raghu Rai’s haunting shot of the face of a little girl being buried following the Bhopal gas tragedy.

It was after the event. There were eyewitness accounts of people jumping over dead bodies lying by the dozen on the roads, killed by the poisonous gas leak  from the Union Carbide (now Dow Jones) factory in Bhopal, but no haunting news photographs showing it.

Nick Ut’s ‘Napalm Girl’photo moved Americans to force an end to a cruel war. Raghu Rai’s photo did not move the then Congress governments at the Centre and in the State to prevent the escape of Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson from India.

Nick Ut, who had many a brush with death – escaping from  a rocket literally by a hair’s breadth, a photographer friend going in his place to work dying  when the helicopter was shot down. Then went from that “hell” to Hollywood and photographed almost every top star and the troubles some of them had, like a sobbing  actor Robert Blake being  acquitted of killing his wife or a tearful Paris Hilton being taken to jail for driving violations.

Of the many Indian Press photographers, only two – Raghu Rai and the late Kishore Parekh  – would be in public mind for very long. The sons of both are following in their fathers’ footsteps. Hopefully, they will reach their heights.  Nick Ut says he would keep  taking photographs as long as he lived. He retired from AP, not from photography.

Whether he uses a pen or a camera, a journalist never ceases to be one.




    1. I accessed both links and read the poem on Darwish and the poston M. If I had clicked on ‘approve’ the comment would be on line and many MAY also click and access the links. So I did not.FOR TWO REASONS.
      First – the poem is okay. Poems should be centred on an emotion and what is important is not the rhyming or the lyrical reading but the ability to arouse an empathetic response in the reader’s heart.
      Second: Your post on M, as some who responded said, was a bold attempt. The language, however, needs quite a bit of editing and corrections and MORE thinking. You are from Bengal and must be knowing Assam-Tripura region. Please read about the Kamakhya temple. Many feminists in recent months had the courage to speak of M and say there was no shame involved in that natural event and speaking of it should not be suppressed. But NONE of them mentioned Kamakhya. In this land of Vatsayana and Khajuraho, ancient India was uninhibited about these, but it was only the Western mentality that we imitate which has coloured out thinking today. I was about to edit/correct the post but then found that you had already posted it and even got comments. So there is nothing more to do.


    2. I wrote the post on the famous Vietnam photo as it played a major role in history. There are many photographers like Yousuf Karsh (Karsh of Ottawa) whose portrait photos show more than just a face -the subject’s personality. I mentioned this in my book. Was the Darwish picture one like it ?


      1. If you cannot say the photo is historical or touches an emotional chord, why do you want to write a poem on it? I told you why I reprinted a photo and write about the photographer. Is there any such reason about the Darweshi photo? If there is, you need not ask anyone whether you should write a poem on it. Go ahead and do it. For the same reasons as Ms M. Sethi mentioned in the comment, I did not want your earlier mail with links to the ‘M’ post to go online. But you already posted. This and the second M post you wanted to write are likely to be considered more erotic (and erratic) than informative, unless you have an entirely new angle and a lot of information. So much is already available in books of psychology and psychiatry, you are unlikely to add more info. commented that you should Though a ‘di’ commented saying you should cover both, I see no useful purpose in doing so.

        As you have already published the post, my there is no purpose in editing/corrections. Please revise what you write, checking grammar and spellings.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s