This is Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Hung Cong’s (Nick Ut) photo from the Napalm attack on June 8th 1972 in Trang Bang, South Vietnam. I have seen this photo during my school days reading about world history, through my teenage years when curiosity took the better of me. Even more so now as I dive into photography and read about the works of famous photographers that changed the course of history. Not only is the photo heartbreaking on so many levels but its distressing; downright harrowing!
Rollback a year back in Hanoi when we were doing a photography course, Neil Ta had an expression for this. And that’s exactly what this is.
“There is no bad photo of a burning monk!”
The ferocity and emotion of the image outweigh everything one can possibly think of looking at this frame. It’s disturbing and powerful. Unimaginably cruel for those that had to live through this experience. It raises questions about ethics in photography, and photojournalism. What is the responsibility of the soldiers in the photo? Did the photographer help the little girl later on? History says he took him to the nearest hospital as soon as he could. There are real people with real stories of excruciating pain and trauma. A pain you and I cannot fathom. Children with their mouth open in screams of unbearable pain and excruciating agony. Probably unimaginable to you and me.
Napalm is a flammable liquid that was used in warfare on this day. It was developed in 1942 in a secret laboratory in Harvard University. Napalm is a combination of 2 words: Naphthenic and Palmitic acids. Napalm makes the flesh burn deeper by sticking to skin and penetrated deeper at a muscular level. It can burn at a temperature as high at 1300 degree C and the intense burning sensation continues for many days after.
How Kim Phúc survived this hollow-cast is unbelievable. That image did certainly change the world. It changed the way we looked or thought of Vietnam war. In war, there are no winners. Luckily for Kim Phúc, she survived with lifelong scars and made Canada her second home. But her excruciating memories will never heal.
My takeaway from this powerful photo
I guess we make fewer images like this today because often photographers don’t connect emotionally to what they shoot. We live in a digital darkroom world and play god with sharpening and colour tones, film simulations and gadget gathering. Lesson here is only one simple thing – a half baked photo will always look half baked at best. Even with sharpness and all gee-whiz edits and film presets treatment. There is a lesson in this for me too. We should try and capture the emotion in the frame first. JPEG, RAW, TIFF nothing matters in the end. Its ALL or nothing in the emotion.
Lets start shooting with passion. We have a brand new month! Give yourself a goal, be it shooting only b/w or shooting landscapes, street or pets. But whatever you do – do so with total emotion connection and truthfulness to your creative soul.