A few days ago was the 40th anniversary of one of the most famous photos of the Vietnam war, one which arguably changed the course of the war by affecting public opinion.
Toronto Star staff photographer Steve Russell documented the occasion. I really liked his portraits of Kim and her "Uncle Ut" together. I haven't reproduced one of the pictures here because I thought you might appreciate seeing all of them and browsing Steve's commentary for yourself.
Thanks to Pete Wilkinson for passing this along.
ADDENDUM: What a difference a moment makes. You remember David Burnett, who John Camp interviewed on TOP not long ago. David was right there when Nick Ut made his most famous photo...but he was reloading film. His picture—a few moments too late—can be seen with his article about it at the Washington Post.
Below is David's portrait of Kim Phuc made just last week.
UPDATE from David Burnett:
I attended a wonderful get together a week ago in Toronto, the exact 40th anniversary of the Trang Bang bombing, and it was quite extraordinary in many ways. Yes, I was a photographer who happened to be there. When someone takes a great picture, others are often around making other images. That day I was one of those making other pictures but not the picture.
Minutes after Nick Ut took his famous photo, Chris Wain pours water over Kim's burns. The journalists took her to a hospital and insisted she be treated, although the hospital staff apparently didn't believe she could be saved. Photo by David Burnett/Contact Press Images.
But far more amazing was the gathering, for the first time in decades, of all the people who had some important impact on this little nine-year-old Vietnamese village girl's life.
Nick did take the kids to a Saigon hospital where Kim Phuc was, after many words, admitted. The staff had very little optimism that she would survive, so while she was treated, it was at a rather low level of medical technology. She was burned over her shoulders and neck, and apparently the staff just thought she wouldn't make it. Four days after the event, the London office of ITN told their correspondent Chris Wain (in poncho, pouring water on her wounds) to find out who this little girl was. As with so many events, she was still anonymous to the world. Chris and the BBC correspondent went to the hospital, found her, realized nothing good would happen there, and took it upon themselves to have her moved to the Barsky Unit, a private U.S. Med Center which specialized in burn therapy. There she started receiving the kind of treatment which allowed her to live.
She was in and out of hospitals for years.
About six years later, when she was still unable to move her neck because of scar tissue, she was found again by a photographer from Stern (the German weekly) who had photographed her before. He visited her at home back in Trang Bang, and realized she still needed serious treatment. He managed to get her a passport and have her flown to Germany, where she stayed for months, had much corrective surgery, and recovered her ability to turn her head fully.
Kim returned to Vietnam and stayed there until the late 1980s when she applied to University in Cuba. She went to school there, met a young Vietnamese guy, and got married. They spent their honeymoon in Moscow. (Describing it, she said, "can you imagine having a honeymoon in Moscow?") On the return trip to Havana the plane made a fuel stop in Gander, Newfoundland. On the spur of the moment they found a Customs officer and decided to defect. They managed to resettle in Canada, near Toronto.
Later, as she thrived—she has a family with two boys, now 14 and 18—she started a foundation, the Kim Foundation, dedicated to helping children who are victims of war.
All of which is background to last Friday's dinner.
Present for the first time in all those years were the following: Kim Phuc and her family; Nick Ut (whom she had seen regularly for all these years, and who she calls "Uncle Ut"); Chris Wain (the TV correspondent who got her moved to the burn hospital); Marjorie Arsenault (the nurse who cared for Kim at the Barsky Unit hospital in the mid-1970s, who is now 91 years old); and Murray Osmond (the Canadian Customs officer who ushered her and her husband into safety when they defected.) Everyone in the room at the same time...sharing an amazing history, all of which began with an accidental bombing—a frightening moment caught by a young photographer with his Leica, and shown around the world in the days of wire service transmitters which looked like cheap fax machines.
One picture can take on a very long life if the story is one that bears telling.
New York, June 16th, 2012
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Paul Van: "What amazes me, is that every time I see a writeup about Nick Ut's photo, I learn something new. Joe McNally also had a blog post about it. And I seem to recall reading that Nick Ut was instrumental in having Kim transferred to a hospital where she could be properly treated. All in all, it is a photograph and story that continues to touch people long after the event. Thank you for posting this."
Featured Comment by Rob Graves: "Thanks. I had always assumed Kim had died, and every time I saw the photo, would think 'why didn't anybody do anything?' So, I was also pleased to read that Nick Ut had put the camera down after the photo and really helped (in an actual sense—not the ongoing influence of the photo). That Nick Ut was only 21 at the time seems to make the whole thing even more remarkable."