The American-Viet Nam War meant loss and pain for both civilians and soldiers on all sides. The lens of wartime photojournalists captured war’s effects on US forces, as well as south and north Vietnamese soldiers.
For the first time ever, a collection of 50 images from the Associated Press’ (AP) archives is on exhibit as part of the 20th anniversary of the normalisation of relations between the US and Viet Nam on July 12.
The exhibit, Viet Nam: The Real War, is an extension of a photographic book compiled by the AP two years ago. Now, with yesterday’s premiere of the exhibit, the book and its photos have been brought to the people of Viet Nam.
To cover the war in Viet Nam, the AP gathered a group of extraordinary photojournalists in its Sai Gon Bureau. Their efforts would go on to create one of the greatest photographic legacies of the 20th century.
“From Malcolm Browne’s photo of the monk Thich Quang Duc who set himself on fire in protest, to Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of a nine-year-old girl running from a Napalm attack, the photographic collection captures the experience and tragedy of people caught in war,” said AP’s President and CEO, Gary Pruitt.
“Our full collection of photography from the conflict constitutes the most comprehensive archive of photography from the war anywhere. The impact of these photos, and of our other coverage, had enormous influence on the war, bringing Americans and others around the world a more complete story of what was going on here,” he said.
The AP’s war coverage won six Pulitzer Prizes, the highest award in journalism. Four of the six awarded photos are on display at the exhibition.
Napalm Girl by Nick Ut, which is on display, recently sold for US$12,000 at a charity auction in HCM City.
“I was totally surprised and happy that the photo – with my and the napalm girl, Kim Phuc’s signatures – sold for a very high price,” said Ut.
“Although I have had solo exhibitions in some countries, I have yet to organise one in Viet Nam. I want to introduce my photos to Vietnamese people, not only about the war, but also about the country as it is today. And also auction them off for charity,” he said.
Attending the exhibition, Ut said he was very moved despite the fact that Napalm Girl has already been displayed and honoured dozens of times throughout the world.
“Today Vietnamese pe-ople have a chance to see the war through the lens of AP photojournalists,” he said, “With an objective mind, they don’t stand on anyone’s side; they just portray the war truthfully.”
Ut said he was inspired and influenced by his brother Huynh Thanh My, also an AP photojournalist. Ut remembers how My hated the war and wanted to use photos to tell the world that it needed to end.
When My lost his life on the battlefield, Ut, at just 16 years old, joined the AP to continue his brother’s journey.
“Like my brother, I wanted the war to end,” said Ut, “When I developed the Napalm Girl photo, I thought, this might help bring peace.”
At the event, Gary Pruitt similarly added that compelling imagery can bring the human story behind conflicts to light.
After the exhibition, the AP will donate the photos to the Viet Nam Military History Museum since they should stay in Viet Nam, said Pruitt.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bui Thanh Son, said he highly appreciated the AP’s efforts in organising the exhibition.
“This is a collection of some of the best photos taken by AP photojournalists; they record tragic moments truthfully and impressively,” said Son.
“The photos remind us of how cruel the war was, but then they also make us treasure peace, independence and liberty all the more.”
The exhibition runs until June 26 at Exhibition House, 45 Trang Tien Street, Ha Noi.