Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering war photographers

Rosenthal's Iwo Jima flag raising
It's Memorial Day in the USA--a day when we celebrate those who have sacrificed in the armed forces so that the rest of us may live free.  I wanted to take this time on the Prairie Rim Images blog to highlight some of the better known war photographers from generations past.  Photographers have been recording conflicts since the US Civil War, but it wasn't until after WWI that equipment allowed photographers to really become intimately involved with active conflict.  Many of these photographers have been honored for their work, and many have died while pursuing their passion.

Much of the info here was taken from Moments: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographs by Hal Buell.  It's an engaging book devoted to the stories behind all of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photos.  It appears to get updated every couple years to include the latest winners, which is cool.  My copy was printed in 2009.

Noel's thirsty life boat survivors
Frank "Pappy" Noel (1943 Pulitzer): After contracting malaria, his boat was torpedoed leaving Singapore in WWII and he spent 5 days in a life boat.  He also covered the 1948 war in Palestine.  He was imprisoned as a Chinese POW for 32 months during the Korean War, where he was smuggled a camera & photographed other prisoners.

Frank Filan (1944 Pulitzer): Covering the invasion of Tarawa Island during WWII, he lost his camera during the initial invasion.  He instead worked as a medic for several days until he was able to borrow another camera days later to photograph the carnage.

Capa's D-Day landing
Robert Capa: Capa was a Hungarian photographer who famously photographed the storming of Omaha beach on D-Day.  Much of his film was ruined by an assistant's processing mistake, but 11 blurry photos survived.  He previously made a name for himself for capturing a falling Spanish soldier during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930's.  He died with his camera in his hand after stepping on a land mine while covering the First Indochina War in 1954.

Joe Rosenthal (1945 Pulitzer): Rosenthal followed the marines on their WWII invasion of Iwo Jima, the bloodies battle in Marine Corps history.  His photo of five Marines raising the US flag over Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi is certainly the most famous photo of WWII, and arguably in American history.

Horst Faas (1965 & 1972 Pulitzers):  Faas won his first prize for his series of uncensored photos of the Viet Nam war.  Wounded in the leg by rocket shrapnel during that campaign.  Faas won his second Pulitzer in 1972 for his coverage of the Bangladesh war for independence from Pakistan.

Adams' VC execution
Kyoichi Sawada (1966 Pulitzer):  Stationed in Tokyo, Sawada vacationed in Viet Nam at his own expense because he wanted to cover the war, where he earned a reputation as a daredevil.  His photo of a mother & children swimming across a river to flee their attacked village was the centerpiece of his prize-winning portfolio.  He was killed in action in Cambodia in 1970 while covering the escalating war.

Eddie Adams (1969 Pulitzer):  After covering the Korean War for the Marines, Adams worked in Viet Nam for the AP.  While in Saigon, he photographed Lt. Col. Nguyen Loan shooting a captured Vietcong soldier in the head.  Though not intended as such, the photo became an anti-war statement in the USA, and haunted both Adams and Loan the rest of their lives.

Ut's photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc
Nick Ut (1973 Pulitzer):  Ut's older brother was killed photographing the war in 1965, and Ut continued his brother's passion.  Nick Ut became famous for his iconic photo of young Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked down the street in Trangbang, Viet Nam, after a napalm attack.  After taking the photo, Ut helped Kim's father take her to the hospital in Saigon for treatment.  Ut and the girl eventually become life long friends.

I could go on for many pages covering even just the more famous conflict photographers that followed, but this is a blog, not a book.  These men (and later, women) risked their own lives to bring us civilians a glimpse of the sacrifice and hardship that the armed forces have endured in order that the rest of us may sleep safely at night.  Don't forget to thank a service man/woman today for the life you have.

If you've got any other great conflict photographers about whom you think our readers should know, please speak up in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. One week after I initially posted this article, the legendary Joe McNally posted an article on his blog about Kim Phuc. This week marks 40 years since Nick Ut took her photo during the botched air strike that changed her life. She's since turned that suffering into a pedestal for humanitarian work. Please check out Joe's article at:


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