Home Edizioneed. 4 Nick Ut – The true story of Napalm Girl

Nick Ut – The true story of Napalm Girl

by AdminAg

Written by Luca De Nardo

A picture that has circulated all around the world, which earned Nick UT the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Nick Ut, photographer and author of one of the truest and most moving; loved and countered, censored and published pictures ever. After the death of his brother in 1965 at the age of 27, Nick Ut started working for AP in 1966, at first in the darkroom; then he went on as war photographer, just like his brother. Napalm Girl – this is the title of this famous shot – had to deal with censorship right from the start.

When Nich Ut sent his picture to AP’s office in the Usa, the picture risked being rejected as nudity publication rules were very strict at that time. In the end the editors of Associated Press agreed that the value of the picture and its meaning were superior to the concerns about nudity, and not only that. Richard Nixon himself (at the time President of the USA) doubted the authenticity of the shot, declaring the it was a fake and that the girl was bruised with oil, as until then no one had survived napalm bombings.


(Shot known to many, but it was the result of a crop at the printing and reproduction stage)

In 2016, Napalm Girl was at the centre of a diplomatic case; the protagonists were Facebook on one hand (which censored the picture) and the Norwegian writer Tom Egeland on the other, whose webpage was closed due to the release of a nude teen picture.
After that, also Norwegian media profiles and other eminent personalities were also involved and censored, showing that censorship often struggles with Art and the right to inform, without knowing the difference between what’s right and wrong (especially when the choice is up to algorithms incapable of thoughtfully discerning one image from another).
The most important Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, on the front page, took a clear stance against Zuckerberg’s company censorship in an open letter signed by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Espen Egil Hansen.
The affair even involved the Norwegian government at the time.

 


(Shot not cropped)

But this is just one of many cases involving this image, which is now 50 years old.  In fact, Napalm Girl is dated 8th June 1972, the day on which a bombing raid was decided in Trang Bang, South Vietnam, by the South Vietnamese Air Force against the North Vietnamese-occupied village. At that juncture, Nick Ut and other photographers got a tip-off of the military attack; this had induced the Vietnamese photojournalist from the Associated Press to guard the area, so as to witness the military attack with his camera. Nick – who was 21 at that time – reports he waited for more than three hours.

“At one point I saw a Vietnamese soldier drop a grenade. Then I saw the helicopters over the pagoda drop two bombs and a few minutes later napalm bombs’. – reports Nick during an interview released this past June in Milan for the newspaper Corriere della Sera, at the opening of the exhibition dedicated to him ‘From Hell to Hollywood’. “I saw people running out of the black smoke that arose from the impact. One of these people was Kim’s grandmother, who was carrying the body of a three-year-old boy. I took a picture of her but the child died shortly after. Then I saw Kim appear and run towards our direction. At that moment I approached to take the photo. After taking the picture I thought they would all die.

When Kim overtook me I saw her arm and her back terribly torn. I did not take any more shots because I thought she would die soon. I had four cameras, left them there and ran with a bottle of water to pour it over her body; ‘it’s burning, it’s burning’ she screamed. She didn’t want water on her body, she wanted to drink it. I stayed there with a BBC cameraman to help her. I drove a little van, so I let her and other children get into it. Despite the situation, she asked about her brother. We arrived at a small hospital in 30 minutes. I asked the doctors to help her, but they did not have enough medicine. They then helped me take her to Saigon.” After leaving Kim, Nick went straight to the Associated Press in Saigon and the ‘Napalm Girl’ photo was developed shortly after.  The morning after Nick wanted to come back to the village. As fate would have it, he met there a woman and her husband, who were looking for their daughter. Nick showed them his picture, which allowed them to recognize that Kim was their daughter, hospitalized.

Kim Phuc – Napalm Girl’s name- was 9 at that time; she stayed in the hospital for fourteen months and during her life she underwent seventeen operations (the last one in 1984 in Germany). After living in Vietnam, she lived in Cuba, then in Canada, where she took Canadian citizenship; now she’s a Unesco representative. Nick Ut moved to Los Angeles, where he still lives today, has also worked for Hollywood but has always supported human rights battles. His photo was also named World Press Photo of the Year after appearing on the front pages of more than 20 major US newspapers.
There is no evidence to support the apocryphal claim that ‘Napalm Girl’ speeded up the end of the Vietnam War, but without doubt the photo has become a symbol of the sentiment against any aberrant form of war.

Technical Note: Napalm Girl was shot with a Leica M2 on Kodak Tri-X 400 film as the 400 and 200 were the only versions available in Vietnam. The camera still exists and is preserved at the ‘Newseum’ in Washington DC.

(Curiosities, anecdotes, behind the scenes) Nick Ut (Photographer) – Kim Phuc (the Girl)

 

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