Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Eddie Adams: The Ethics of War Photography

Street Execution of a Prisoner, 1968 by Eddie Adams

Images like this one make for uncomfortable viewing, however they have a hugely important role in history. This shocking photograph was taken in 1968 by the photo-journalist Eddie Adams. It captures the exact moment a bullet enters the head of a suspected Vietcong guerilla called Nguyen Van Lam. The man holding the gun was Colonel Nguyun Ngoc Loan, chief of the South Vietnamese Police.

Technically, the image is an incredible demonstration of the skill of still photography as a document of honest reportage; the courage needed to go into dangerous situations and calmly take a good picture is something that requires a huge degree of detachment and self-discipline. However, pictures like this one undoubtedly raise questions about the ethical implications of media coverage in war. Was the man executed because the media was present? Surely it was important that there were independent witnesses there? According to Adams after the incident the Colonel exclaimed, 'They kill many of my men and your people,' and then walked away. The reaction to this photograph was so profound that it fueled anti-war sentiments in the US, exposing the brutality and casual violence of the Vietnam War.

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