Power of photography

Most of you have probably seen this photo:

It was made in February 1st, 1968. in Saigon, after the North Vietnamese forces started Tet offensive. A man with a hand gun was South Vietnamese officer, general Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. A prisoner was Nguyễn Văn Lém. Photograph was made by Eddie Adams who was AP photojournalist in Vietnam.
This photograph made great influence on American public opinion, turning it against American involvement in Vietnam war. Eddie Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for that one. About that day he wrote:

I just followed the three of them as they walked towards us, making an occasional picture. When they were close – maybe five feet away – the soldiers stopped and backed away. I saw a man walk into my camera viewfinder from the left. He took a pistol out of his holster and raised it. I had no idea he would shoot. It was common to hold a pistol to the head of prisoners during questioning. So I prepared to make that picture – the threat, the interrogation. But it didn't happen. The man just pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it to the VC's head and shot him in the temple. I made a picture at the same time.

This is all about a cruelty of war. We can see armed man executing helpless prisoner. Evil that wins over truth and life. But, as Adams later said, photography is just a half of the story. According the South Vietnamese sources, Nguyễn Văn Lém (a prisoner) was Viet Cong officer who has been caught the same day close the ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of general Loan's deputy… General Loan escaped to USA after the war, where he died in 1998. Eddie Adams died too, 5 years ago.
For me this photograph is a proof what one single moment in someone`s life can change a destinu of one man and millions of people. There is nothing heroic in executing helpless man. People act weird in stressful and life threatening situations. One day you are a hero. Tomorrow you are war criminal. We will probably never know which one of the stories were true. All involved are dead, just a photo remained to tell its own story.

Eddie Adams:

The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.

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55 Responses to Power of photography

  1. Zaphira says:

    Photos do indeed lie, both the manipulated ones, and those that aren't.There is always more than one angle to a picture, and what's just outside the frame is also part of the true situation.Blaming a photographer for taking pictures "instead of helping" is ridiculous. We all crave for documentation – if that wasn't true the paparazis would quit their jobs. And the picture do not tell whether he helped or not.

  2. SittingFox says:

    Sobering thoughts indeed. Of course, when you buy a camera, you think about all the beautiful things that you expect to capture with it – family, nature, historic sites – but it can be the most painful shots that are the most significant.

  3. LorenzoCelsi says:

    I think you put something of yourself in the pictures. And same goes in the other direction, people put something of themselves in the pictures when they look at them.

  4. gdare says:

    There is another photograph, made by Kevin Carter, that I wanted to mention here.This one changed his life for ever. From Wikipedia:

    In March 1993 Carter made a trip to southern Sudan. The sound of soft, high-pitched whimpering near the village of Ayod attracted Carter to a young emaciated Sudanese toddler. The girl had stopped to rest while struggling to a feeding center, wherein a vulture had landed nearby. He said that he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn't. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away. However, he also came under heavy criticism for just photographing — and not helping — the little girl:"The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene."Portions of Carter's suicide note read:"I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners…

  5. PainterWoman says:

    Two very telling photos of our world then…and now. War and poverty. It never ends.

  6. Furie says:

    This is an incredible post Darko. You've really impressed me. Personally I hold the view that words are a lot more dangerous than a photograph, but it really does depend on the situation and who the danger is to.There's a videogame design I came across a while back that reminds me of the vulture story and what Tils said. It's a typical zombie story, but the ranking system is changed. Instead of just having to survive, you're cast as a news reporter after the scoop. You're ranked and rewarded on how much of the story you get by filming what's happening around you. You can help others if you wish, sometimes for a small reward too, but the big rewards (the ones that make surviving a lot easier) lie in letting them die and filming it as they scream for help. I remember thinking that it's such an interesting game dynamic, totally against the regular design decisions and more realistic in a way.:sst: I'm the victim of a photograph. All the guys want me cause of mine. :awww:

  7. ellinidata says:

    pain can be like a mirror reflection, the subject and the photographer will have that special moment, it can be sad or happy…. The photograph is like a projector that spreads that reflection to the world. Like anything else we see in life it can effect us deeply or not. When I saw the picture of the little girl, I was haunted for days,when I learned that the photographer could have taken that little angel to a center give her some water of food to save her and istead he was determined to be famous/infamous by taking a photo, I washaunted by the cruelty of human,and I will never forgive him for that!I know he is not alive and if there is God let Him forgive him :(Animals kill for survival,they also lick and try to help a wounded animalwe are not as good as they are 😦 we are less than animals.thanks Darko,another amazing post :heart:

  8. Furie says:

    I think a lot of the interpretation also depends on what you know of a photographic subject as well.Without the background a whole different meaning can be read into something. Predisposition to believe certain things is another problem.

  9. gdare says:

    Adele – exactly; we are doing things mostly thinking about nice consequences it will produce; sometimes we are just wrong; I bet both of them would be much happier if they got famous of making something nice or by playing some music; or not being famous at all; but life put them in situations when they just reacted automatically :left:Lorenzo – I always react in some ways to a photograph I like or dislike; sometimes counsciously, sometimes not; when a photograph make no impression on me, it is like it never existed; I guess it is the same with good photographers; they just know how to catch a moment that suits their present feeling;Pam – and they go hand in hand together…Zaph – this starving kid photograph is emotionally very strong; it makes a punch directly to one of our deepest instincts: protecting our kids – extending of our family (species); because a lot of us will probably think "what if this was my kid" :eyes: it is not wonder he was haunted by that image in his head years after;Angeliki – well, no one could acuse vulture for being hungry, it was instinct and it reacted according to that; on the other hand, a photographer also reacted according to his instinct – at the moment; I don`t think he was less human; but being surrounded by starving and dying people for who knows how long, probably turned his instinct in a weird way; he made a photograph first, then helped a kid; hopefully no one of us will be in that position;Mik – thank you; words are strong "weapon" as well as photographs; we have a saying here "killed by a too strict word"; photography is just different – and it gives certain lovel of proof something happened; but story that follow could be completely different;:sst: I know they are after you, weirdos :eyes:

  10. ricewood says:

    This is a very, very interesting post. The entry itself as well as the comments.I am sure we all have a collection of photos in our memories that changed the world – at least for us, but most likely for a billion other people. Photos which have become icons.Photos are a very powerful language. When they work their best, they speak poetry, beauty and love. When they are at their peak-efficiency, they don't speak; they shout! They shout so loud that a whole world can hear it.But in none of the cases they can be said to speak the Truth with a capital T. Maybe because there's practically nothing in this world so simple that it holds only one truth. There are always more truths in every statement.What do I know? Either way this made me ponder – therefore I think this is first-class blogging. And that's the truth.

  11. gdare says:

    Thank you Allan.

  12. Stardancer says:

    I agree with Allan.Wonderful post, Darko.

  13. Dacotah says:

    😦 😥

  14. ellinidata says:

    I hope he did the right thing at the time Darko,however killing himself after he took this picture suggests regrets,:(on a related/unrelated topic,the rate of American solders killing themselves these days is greater than ever, I to wonder if it is the pain they see and experience in Iraq and afghanistan is the reason or like the photographer they regret of what they have done …..as you said aboveonly them know for sure :heart:

  15. edwardpiercy says:

    Great post, Darko. If you will allow me, this is my own favorite war photo.It was taken by photographer John Hoagland in El Salvador in the early 80s. The poetry and intensity of that photo just floors me. It's my favorite photo of all time.John Hoagland's work has never gotten much noteriety. In fact when he was killed in El Salvador a few years after taking that shot, his own magazine, Newsweek, didn't even put him in their obituary column. I know because I went through every issue of Newsweek from '79 to '84 culling for Hoagland photos.

  16. ellinidata says:

    I know "heart breaking" and "great" is hard to be in one line:(

  17. ellinidata says:

    this is an amazing photo Ed ….:(I will add one from Iraq,a child crying for the loss of her father and 2 brothers picture taken by L.Clouds a marine that still in Iraq:

  18. edwardpiercy says:

    Ah, I would say "that's a good one" but….it doesn't seem appropriate.We ought to do one of those communal blogs here that's devoted to nothing but anti-war photos.As Allan said, a "shout." :up:

  19. gdare says:

    Stardancer – thank you;Angeliki – I have read that in newspapers on line, it has increased to 128 for entire year plus 15 more possible cases; American soldiers thought a war would be over in a year or so and were unprepared to long time fighting with guerrila; in time, goals faded, politicians changed and world changed; a lot of them can`t see what are they doing there anyway;Ed – in war zones there are a different rules; death and killings are "normal", they happen everyday and people start to act according to it – with acceptance and not much thinking about what is going on with people who die around them; I guess this is a way that brain protects itself to preserve sanity, blocking everything that was not normal in some other times; this is what that photo tells me; you can see it in photos from every war zone from around a world; understanding of horrors comes later;Carol – I am sorry if I made you sad 😦

  20. Dacotah says:

    Darko, I understand this is happening. I do not close my eyes or nor do I pretend that everything is ok. I say my prayers. Knowing about these things is one thing but for me to see the photos or the news reports breaks my heart and makes me sad and makes me 😥

  21. BabyJay99 says:

    😦

  22. gdare says:

    Lea and Carol, this is a world we are living in. This is happening every day, probably now as I am typing this. There is no use of closing eyes and pretending everything is ok.On the other hand, there are a lot of beautiful things that I would like to see. There is always a ballance 🙂

  23. Dacotah says:

    It is heartbreaking to see photos like this. 😦

  24. ricewood says:

    My first thought when I see these powerful photos is, that my country is a country of warfare. We are killing people – but we do it far from our home shores. Therefore the photos are important. We should have it all right in our faces to understand what we're doing.

  25. ellinidata says:

    to us there are pictures on paper/screen tothese people it is their livesIf it wasn't for the technology and the mediamost of us we would have lived our lives too like nothing happensand we would have nagging about our coffee being not to our liking..The sadness we feel by seeing these images it is a drop in the ocean comparing to what these people and our men and women(the ones that did not choose to be at a war zone) live daily.Now I wonder "how much one can take? is the media giving us the "clear" picture? how much we want to see ?how many of us do read btwn the lines? "*peace on earth*:heart:

  26. ellinidata says:

    “The art of reading between the lines is as old as manipulated information.” Serge Schmemann

  27. gdare says:

    Exactly 🙂

  28. gdare says:

    Carol – that makes you human :)Angeliki – "how many of us do read btwn the lines?" A lot of us, but only when our lives are on stake. Or, when a lie is obvious :left:

  29. edwardpiercy says:

    @ Darko.Yes.Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002. Photo by James Hill of the New York Times.

  30. gdare says:

    Beautiful 🙂

  31. gdare says:

    Hello Eric, nice to see you here again :up:

  32. CedarFox says:

    Good post, Darko. I agree with what others had said. Photos are a great way to show moments, but don't necessarily tell the entire story.

  33. rose-marie says:

    What a great post, Darko. The old cliché – a picture says more than a thousand words – is so very true in this case. Although I'm not too fond looking at pictures from wars, I like Robert Capa's photographs.

  34. Spaggyj says:

    Very thought provoking indeed, Dark. Amazing post – I have a lot to say but unfortunately no skill for articulation at this point… I'll be back.

  35. gdare says:

    Rose – thank you; upon my opinion, Robert Capa is probably the most famous war reporter and photograph; once he said that a photograph will be as good as close you are (to actual events); as you probably know he died on his duty;Kimmie – whenever you want 🙂

  36. gdare says:

    Javaen – when I first saw that photo (the first one in post) I was thinking what was that so terrible capture man did to deserve to be killed like that. And the expression on both his and his executioner`s face, like the first one was not aware of what will happen soon and, at the same time, perfectly aware of inevitability of situation; on the same time, executioner was perfectly sane and comitted to do what he wanted to do; there is no mistake on that; the rest of the known story I have heard from my friend few days ago and then decided to make this post.

  37. gdare says:

    Rose – 😀

  38. rose-marie says:

    Actually, I didn't know how he died until I read an article about him recently. I had heard the quote, though :up:.

  39. Javaen says:

    I remember my family had a large book of influential pictures from Time magazine. I'd look for hours. Lost in the beauty, the horrors, the fabric of what makes us human. This picture was included. Thanks for the flood of memories.

  40. Javaen says:

    It's a powerful picture indeed. Here is other photographs that changed the world. http://pinguy.infogami.com/blog/vwm6Hope someone enjoys. I took a trip down memory lane.

  41. gdare says:

    I did, there are some I haven`t seen for a decade or so 😀

  42. Javaen says:

    :yes: glad u enjoyed.

  43. gdare says:

    Thank you for a link, it was nice to see some photos after long time :happy:

  44. Javaen says:

    After the terribly stark and horrorifying pictues there, I have to say, the famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse made me really smile.

  45. studio41 says:

    photography, words, any art form… can be very powerful, indeed.

  46. gdare says:

    Java – and she slapped him for that :yikes: :PJill – yes; many years ago I have read "Gulag Archipelago" by A. Solzhenitsyn where he described sufferings of his people in prisons in Siberia and other parts of Russia; very powerful book;

  47. Javaen says:

    😆 Um, it sure doesn't look like she's too upset to me!!*secretly jealous*

  48. gdare says:

    :lol:Don`t be, he kissed every girl he could put his hands on that day :left:

  49. Javaen says:

    :up: :yes:Can u blame him??Still jealous tho! 😛

  50. gdare says:

    😆 😆

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