Photography then and now

In among all the ballyhoo about spoiled and talentless rich socialite tart Paris Hilton going to jail, getting out then being sent back in tears (in contrast to her earlier cockey attitude) I missed something – see this picture which went all over the news of the silly girl weeping?

Imagine my surprise to find out the photographer behind that snapped image is Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Nick Ut. If you don’t recognise his name you will recognise this photograph Ut took of Kim Phuc, a tiny wee lassie running screaming down a road in Vietnam, her clothes burned off and her skin roasted by napalm dropped by US aircraft (yes, I know, hard to believe the Americans back then thought it was perfectly okay to invade countries thousands of miles away and didn’t care too much about civilian casualties; thank goodness we live in a more enlightened time, eh?).

As if that isn’t a surprise enough as this article points out Ut shot the photo of this dreadful scene – which became not only one of the defining images of the Vietnam War but one of the most influential photographs of the 20th century, a moment of humanity’s inhumanity frozen in time – on June 8th 1972. He shot the picture of a wailing Paris on June 8th 2007. What are the odds? There is a strand of thought which holds that the Americans lost the Vietnam war partly in the livingrooms of America, as people were exposed to photographs and TV news film of the atrocities going on leading a huge slice of the population (and not just the Love Generation) to turn against the government and the war – this is one of the images which probably contributed to that.

Little surprise that in the first Gulf War and subsequent ill-advised military adventures overseas the US military (and UK and pretty much all others) have kept a very tight reign on what the journalists can see, bribing them with the offer of ’embedding’ them with active units to get good shots but subject to military approval and control or else go freelance and have a good chance of getting shot up not just by insurgents but by allied forces as happened to the BBC’s John Simpson among others (all accidental of course, just as US armour shelling the hotel where foreign journalists were in Baghdad was accidental…). Hell, the control and spin extends as far as trying to stop images of flag-draped coffins coming home – supposedly out of respect to the families but if you are cynical (and since authorities are reticent about exact casualty figures I think you’d be right to be cynical) you could be forgiven for thinking it is to stop the home front losing faith.