Bringing the War Back Home ; INSIDE STORY ++ Pulitzer-Winning Photographer Horst Faas's Unflinching Coverage of Vietnam Shows That the Camera Can Be Mightier Than the Cannon. Interview by Sophie Morris
Morris, Sophie, The Independent (London, England)
Horst Faas, born in Berlin in 1933, remembers the heavy shelling of his home city during the Second World War and the use of napalm on civilians. 30 years later he found himself in Vietnam witnessing more napalm attacks, as he documented the emerging conflict for the Associated Press photo agency. Faas became AP's chief photographer for South East Asia and was based in Saigon from 1962 to 1974, winning a Pulitzer in 1965 for his shocking and honest portrayals of civilian suffering in Vietnam. He won a second Pulitzer for images from Bangladesh in 1972. He also became known as a decisive and provocative picture editor and was brave enough to publish the two most enduring images of the Vietnam war: Nick Ut's famous Napalm Girl and Eddie Adams' Saigon Execution, showing the killing of a Vietcong prisoner by a Saigon police chief. Now 74, Faas has revisited Vietnam many times and his book, Requiem, honours the photographers who died on both sides. The pictures featured here appear in Breaking News: How the Associated Press has covered war, peace, and everything else, the first book about AP's photojournalism since 1940.
Horst Faas is talking at a Frontline Club event about the changing face of war photography on Thursday at the Hilton, London Paddington, 6.30pm.
1. AUGUST, 1962
This picture of South Vietnamese soldiers in a boat was taken early in the war, on the Mekong River, far down in the Ca Mau peninsula. I had been walking around the swamps with these troops for three or four days and here their exhaustion is visible. This is long before the Americans arrived and it showed me that some of the Vietnamese were doing their utmost to get rid of the Vietcong. The area was inhospitable - the swamps were full of ants and there were a lot of booby traps. Those were the days when if you stepped in the water you were likely to put a bamboo spike through your foot. Every correspondent wore boots with metal soles. The commander of these troops called me and said, "This is a horrible picture. I don't want pictures taken of my troops showing them inactive and sleeping. They are fighting troops." I tried to explain that their exhaustion showed they had been fighting, but it was six months later before I could tell him how popular it had become, and he invited me back to take pictures of his soldiers.
2. JULY, 1963
During the very early phases of the Vietnam conflict, many people around the world weren't aware there was a war going on. For photojournalists like me it was a fantastic time because there wasn't that much competition and I discovered an event that officially wasn't even happening.
This woman is fleeing her burning village - usually the whole village was burned down when they found evidence of the Vietcong sheltering or living there, but these people had no choice as the Vietcong were their husbands and fathers. It was a kind of scorched earth policy. By 1975 most Vietnamese villages didn't exist anymore. The soil had grown back and much of the land had turned to swamp land, and the people were crowded in the cities and the refugee camps. The whole process almost destroyed Vietnam and it has taken until almost now to restore the damage.
3. MARCH, 1964
This has become one of those pictures published again and again as a typical Vietnam scene. It was actually taken inside Cambodia where Vietnamese troops were pursuing the Vietcong in these armoured personnel carriers. After we crossed the border there were suddenly a lot more people in the fields. They weren't necessarily Vietcong, but when you're a pilot in a small airplane you can't see the difference, so they just bombed and shot at everybody who was visible. This father was holding out his child asking the soldiers to help, but they didn't even speak the same language. The photo helped make the American public aware that napalm was used as an offensive weapon. …