Pulitzer Prize winning Photographer
There are two photographs which immediately define the horrors of war, both taken during the Vietnam War. One, from 1972, shows a young girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, seared from napalm and running naked down a road. This photo was taken by a Vietnamese photographer, Nick Ut, who then saved the girl's life and finally brought her to America. The other picture was taken in 1968, showing a South Vietnamese police commander, Brig. Gen Nguyen Ngoc Loan, shooting a Viet Cong infiltrator in the head, on the streets of Saigon during the second day of the Tet Offensive. This picture made the front page of every paper in the world and earned its photographer, Eddie Adams, a 1969 Pulitzer Prize.
The son of Adelaide and Edward Adams, Eddie was born on June 12,1933, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. His love for photography took seed in high school, where he snapped pictures for the school paper. Afterwards, he joined the Marines and spent three years in Korea as a combat photographer. His return to civilian life found him working for a string of newspapers as well as The Associated Press. In 1972, Adams went to work for Time magazine for four years, eventually returning to the A.P. as a special correspondent.
I wasn't out to save the world. I was out to get a story.
In the late Seventies, Adams joined the elite photo agency Contact Press Image, then left to join Parade, with whom he worked for the next twenty years. Commercial assignments , location portraits, movie stills, and the occasional war zone kept Adams and his cameras constantly on the move. He covered 13 wars from around the globe and his images of the world's leaders appeared in newspapers and magazine covers from pole to pole. His lens captured profiles that ranged from Presidents Nixon and Bush to Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II, and Fidel Castro, with whom Adams went duck hunting.
Reagan was President at the time and Castro says to me while we're hunting, 'Don't tell the CIA where I go duck hunting.' We shot 75 ducks in 3 1/2 hours.
But it was the "execution picture" from Vietnam that would forever connect the world with Eddie Adams; a connection that brought both fame and discomfort. It was the second day of the Tet Offensive in the raging streets of Cholon, Saigon's Chinese quarter, when Adams and an NBC film crew were drawn by gunfire. They watched as South Vietnamese soldiers brought a Viet Cong captive to a South Vietnam police chief for what they assumed would be an interrogation.
Instead, Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan approached the prisoner and when within an arms distance, wordlessly drew his pistol and shot the captive in the head. Adams caught the moment of fire and the impact on the world was as great as the impact on the prisoner. Millions were shocked by the image and the antiwar sentiment in the U.S. increased proportionately. The image won Adams the 1969 Pulitzer Prize but he was so haunted by the picture himself, that he never displayed it in his studio. Adams preferred a photo he took of boat people fleeing postwar Vietnam that inspired Congress to admit 200,000 Vietnamese refugees to the United States.
In 1988, Adams created Barnstorm, a workshop near his farm in Upstate New York, where both professionals and newcomers could work and learn together through workshops, lectures, and instructional clinics. Each October, more than 100 teachers and students take part in the program, a program committed to continue as a testimonial to Adams' interest in the world of photos and photographers.
Eddie Adams passed away on September 18, 2004 at the age of 71. The cause of death was Lou Gehrig's Disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Adams was diagnosed last May and quickly lost his speech but continued working until his final days.