Frozen moments burned into memories

April 20, 2008

Nick Ut, Exactly 35 Years Later

When word broke a few minutes ago that Paris Hilton was headed back to jail, we were stunned. Not because Paris was back in custody, but because the Associated Press photo of her crying in the back of a police cruiser was taken by the one and only Nick Ut. Nick, of course, was the photographer who shot young Kim Phuc, the girl wounded during a napalm  attack near the village of Trang Bang, thus creating one of the iconic images of the Vietnam War.

Just to note how funny life (and careers) can be, get this: Nick made his famous war image on June 8, 1972. Who would have imagined that 35 years (to the day) later he’d be photographing an unhappy hotel heiress being shipped off to jail and getting front-page coverage for doing so?
—David Schoauer

Frozen moments burned into memories

By Yao Minji 2008-4-15
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NICK Ut has a sharp and sensitive eye – especially when it comes to major events and celebrities.

The Vietnamese-American Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer was in Shanghai at the weekend to participate in a group photo exhibition of American photographers at Shanghai Library.

Ut’s photos fell into two categories – pictures of Vietnam War survivor Phan Thi Kim Phuc and of Hollywood celebrities. They are his area of expertise.

Ut is renowned for his timeless picture of Kim Phuc following a napalm bomb blast as well as a picture of Paris Hilton being taken to jail last year. The shots were taken exactly 35 years apart.

Having worked for the Associated Press for more than 40 years, Ut says he loves taking news photos and is proud of both pictures.

On June 8, 1972, then 21-year-old Ut captured the most iconic image of the Vietnam War when he snapped nine-year-old Kim Phuc running down a road in terror after a napalm explosion had burned off her clothes and much of her skin. The picture drew the world’s attention to the horror of the Vietnam War and won Ut the Pulitzer Prize.

On the same day in 2007, 56-year-old Ut focused his camera on Hilton’s blond hair as she was ordered to go to jail. The exclusive picture was just another assignment for Los Angeles-based Ut who has taken pictures of many celebrities in trouble, including O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial.

The Saigon native adopted his English first name from a French photographer friend who was shot during the Vietnam War. He says he developed his love of photography partly through his brother, also a photographer who was killed while taking war pictured for AP in 1965. Ut essentially took his job in order to financially support his family.

Ut has always claimed “luck” was responsible for him capturing the shot of Kim Phuc 36 years ago instead of any of the other photographers on the scene.

“There were many other photographers there that day but they were either changing film or batteries in their cameras because they have taken so many pictures before that moment,” Ut tells Shanghai Daily. “I just happened to have film and a battery in my camera.”

Ut holds a similar view to the Hilton picture he took last year.

“I was not the only one on the scene, but I got the best moment thanks to luck. That is the best part of news photos – the moment eclipses very quickly.”

Contrary to the current stereotypical image of paparazzo who care only about their pictures, Ut says he and other photographers poured water over Kim Phuc’s burned body.

As soon as he had taken the picture, Ut dropped his camera and nursed the girl as she was transported to a provincial Vietnamese hospital in Cu Chi in a car. He even used his media pass to beg doctors to save her as there were so many other patients in the hospital in need of urgent help.

He only left to transmit his film after he made sure Kim Phuc had been sent to surgery. Later he went to the girl’s home to report her condition to her parents as soon as he had finished his work.

Ut and Kim Phuc have remained in touch ever since and Ut also helped her and her family to relocate to Canada. They call each other weekly and Ut has taken many pictures of her and her two children. Kim Phuc calls Ut “uncle” and Ut considers her “like my daughter.”

This is Ut’s first visit to China and he is impressed by Shanghai’s old buildings. He hopes more people can “visit such amazing architectures.”

“I go back to Vietnam quite often. It has been developing rapidly and many old buildings were torn down to make room for modern Western-style buildings,” says Ut. “But it’s the traditional and different style that is precious to us.”

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