Friday, 8 June 2012

An Image of War's Inhumanity

by Oliver Stone

(image source: visualcultureblog.com)
This horrific and shocking image has become one of the most iconic photographs of the past century. Forty years ago today, a single shot from a journalist's camera communicated to the world the reality of the Vietnam War in a way which no news article could possibly convey. Indeed, the picture had such a huge impact across the world that it contributed to bringing this prolonged war to an end.

The photographer, Nick Ut, was documenting the war zone for Associated Press. On 8 June 1972 he was faced with this horrifying scene. In the absence of digital photography, Ut had no idea how powerful the image would turn out to be that he had just captured. The only thing he could focus on in the moment were the helpless screams of this little girl and that he must seek medical treatment for her as fast as possible. The naked child, Kim Phuc, was fleeing her burning village with other members of her family, having had her clothes and layers of skin melted from her body by the napalm.

While I personally find this photograph too shocking to contemplate for more than a second or two, there is little doubt that war photographers continue to do valuable work in bringing home to us the horrors of conflict, just as they are doing now in Syria, helping to expose the appalling massacres of young children at Houla and Mazraat al-Qubair within the last two weeks (see Anna Bazley's article).

Kim Phuc, the naked nine-year-old girl and Nick Ut, the photographer, have remained in touch ever since (see image below). Kim, now 49, is a doctor and fortunately lived to survive the horrendous burns that covered her body. Nick Ut has since won the Pulitzer Prize for his photograph.
Nick Ut and Kim Phuc forty years later
(image source: Daily Telegraph)
Read an interview with Kim Phuc forty years after the original photograph was taken:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jun/02/girl-vietnam-napalm-photo-peace?newsfeed=true

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