Ok so it's 2017. We don't trust photographs anymore you see. And the ones we do enjoy seeing are 3 inch images flipping across our screens desperately seeking for our depleting attention....Instant gratification, pretty pixels... hipster aesthetics... oh and creamy bokeh....
Among the rampant disqualifications of photojournalists at prestigious awards on one side and photographic propaganda on the political left, right and center; a true legend of our times retired this week. Nick Ut, maker of the famed 'Napalm Girl' image served for 51 years with the Associated Press. The LA Times reports, 'Ut was only 21 when he took that photo on June 8, 1972, then set his camera aside to rush 9-year-old Kim Phuc to a hospital, where doctors saved her life. He would go on to take literally tens of thousands more over the next 44 years, including images of practically every A-list celebrity who walked a Hollywood red carpet or entered a courtroom on the wrong side of the law.' In his own words, Nick prefers to title his famous image not 'Napalm Girl', but 'Terrible'
I had the great opportunity to meet Nick at the Eddie Adams 'Barnstorm' Workshop in 2011 and anyone who knows him can attest to his kindness, humility and commitment to his craft. It doesn't take long for one of the best photojournalists in history to convince you that photography is larger than us, our egos and even our images! Which brings me to my point here...
Have we stopped believing that photographs can change and shape culture and opinion? And why so? Is it because they are impotent or is it because of our apathetic and consumerist mindset? As a photographer and a consumer of images, I can't help but ask myself, when I cry foul and scratch my head for being a so-called victim of the times, am I not the perpetrator too? I'm not being idealistic here, there is surely a difference between media distribution and consumption today as compared to times during the Vietnam War but that's besides the point. Nick Ut risked his life to save countless others and his images were pivotal in not just anti-war sentiments but actually stopping the war. His images were accepted and welcomed by an audience who respected the power of the visual. An audience who didn't let distractions shift away the focus from the real and pressing issues of society.
Images remain powerful today as they were then. And there are stalwarts today who are journeying on Nick's footsteps doing their part in bringing truth to us. It is now our responsibility to recognize the signal from the noise and carry forward this ecosystem and welcome media and the arts as a deep-rooted engine for transformation. There is hope, hold on...
My deepest thanks to Nick Ut for being the foundation for so many to stand on, and to the Eddie Adams team for the workshop. The contributions made by Nick, Eddie Adams and the Barnstorm team are literally immeasurable.
And I should mention that among the hundreds of thousands of shutter actuations from my camera, this is one among the few which had my heart racing so much :)
(click here for an excellent short video interview of Nick as part of his Leica Hall Of Fame Awards)