|Born||Mar. 29, 1951
Long An, Viet Nam
Of the tens of thousands of photographs documenting the horrors of the Vietnam War, perhaps none is more memorable and iconic than the shot which has come to be known as the “Napalm Girl,” captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut.
Nick Ut was born Huynh Cong Ut in 1951. He his parents lived in the southern Mekong Delta province of Long An in Vietnam. When he was 14 years old ,his mother brought him to the Associated Press offices in Saigon and asked if they could give her son a job. Ut’s older brother, Huynh Thanh, had been killed just a few weeks earlier, also working as an AP photographer.
Ut was given a job which was largely that of a gopher. His title was “darkroom assistant,” and his job was to mix chemicals and keep the place clean. But nothing could keep young Nick away from a camera, and within just a year, he was already out in the battlefield capturing vivid images of the war. He was barely 16 years old.
Bravery in Danger
The job of combat photographer is incredibly dangerous, and Ut paid his dues. He was wounded a number of times, including being shot in the stomach and twice on two separate occasions, in his upper chest. He was wounded yet a third time by shrapnel damage to his leg inflicted by a mortar attack.
Ut’s Pulitzer Prize Photo
It was in 1973 that Nick Ut captured a photograph that would make him famous and win him the most coveted honor in photojournalism, the Pulitzer Prize. The image shows a naked and screaming Vietnamese girl running with her arms spread wide. Her face is a study in agony. Her body has been scorched with by the burning bomb chemical, napalm, and she flees a scene of smoky chaos in the background.
Like no other image, this photograph of an innocent 9-year-old child fleeing the terrors of battle captured the complexity and often unintended consequences of war. The screaming girl burned by napalm was Phan Thi Kim Phuc of the Trang Bang district. She became known as the “Napalm Girl,” as the image was reproduced in newspapers around the world.
It would go on to become perhaps the primary image which communicated the agony, and for many, the folly of the Vietnam War. It became a potent symbol for anti-war protesters.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc survived the incident despite severe burns over a large part of her back and body. After taking the photograph, Nick Ut took Phuc and several other children to a hospital in Saigon, saving Phuc’s life. She was so badly burned she was not expected to survive. Kim Phuc lives today in Canada and has Canadian citizenship. She and Ut later met as adults.
Nick Ut continues to work as an Associated Press photographer today, based out of Los Angeles. At the end of the war, Ut was sent to Camp Pendleton in southern California where he obtained refugee status. His skills as a photographer earned him an AP assignment in Tokyo. He returned from Japan two years later and became an American citizen. He has been inducted into the prestigious Leica Hall of Fame.