DPP Home Profiles Nick Ut: Master Of Spot News

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nick Ut: Master Of Spot News

From Hell to Hollywood, Nick Ut gets the shots that the editorial desk needs. He never misses, and he does his work with style and aplomb.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Phan Thi Kim Phuc, son Thomas and husband Bui Huy Toan in their apartment in Canada, May 25, 1997. Kim Phuc’s arm shows evidence of the burns she suffered in 1972, when her village in Vietnam was hit by napalm bombs. Ut photographed the young Kim Phuc that day; his famous image captivated the world.
DPP: How did your photograph of a crying Paris Hilton being carted off to jail come about? Ironically, it was on the 35th anniversary, June 8, 2007, of your historic photograph of a crying Kim Phuc fleeing her village in Vietnam after being struck by napalm.

Ut: I had just come back from a visit to Vietnam, and AP handed me an assignment to cover Paris Hilton. I went to her house in West Hollywood around eight o’clock in the morning. There were over 300 photographers, TV crews and fans already there in front of her house. How’s a short guy like me going to get the photo? The sheriff was going to take her to jail. They had a big umbrella over her. They had a big tarp covering the gate, so you couldn’t see what was going on. Then when the sheriff’s car came out from the garage, we could see her mother and father waving goodbye to their daughter. They looked very sad. The car stopped for a few seconds. From the back seat of the car, Paris looked back at her parents and was crying, and I took the photo. It reminded me of the napalm girl. I gave my CF card to another AP photographer—we had three photographers there—and said, “I don’t know what I have,” then went to the county jail to try and get a picture of her there. While I was there, I got a call from an AP editor, saying, “CNN wants to interview you about your picture of Paris Hilton. You had your picture of the napalm girl on June 8, 1972, and now June 8, 2007, you have Paris Hilton going to jail.” I didn’t even know that I had gotten a good picture of her in the car. I hadn’t even seen the picture yet. My friend from the L.A. Times said, “Your picture of Paris Hilton is everywhere already.” Then I saw it on Yahoo.

Paris Hilton is transported from her home to court by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, June 8, 2007.
DPP: What do you think about society’s obsession with celebrities?

Ut: It’s not just in Los Angeles. It’s New York, Washington, everywhere. So many people don’t care about the news. When Michael Jackson died, we covered the story all week. At the same time, there were protests in London against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody cared. Lindsay Lohan going to jail—over 100 people covered the story. What about the other news that was going on that day? It’s not a good thing. It’s all about Hollywood. A car bomb in Iraq goes off and many people die. It ends up in the paper as a very small story. Lindsay Lohan going to jail is a big story. We’re journalists, not paparazzi.

DPP: You’ve stayed in contact with Kim Phuc, the napalm victim in your Pulitzer Prize-winning image you took in Vietnam. How is she?

A plane drops fire retardant on wildfires, Oak Glen, Calif., August 31, 2009.
Ut: I’m very good friends with Kim. She calls me “Uncle.” Her back and arm have permanent scars from the napalm. They’ll never heal. She travels the world as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their two boys. Her husband came from North Vietnam. They met in Cuba where they were both studying and then fled to Canada on their way back from their honeymoon in the Soviet Union. She’s been back to Vietnam since.

DPP: In 1989, you returned to Vietnam for the first time since fleeing the country in 1975. Why?

Ut: To cover an MIA story, and then in 1993, I went to help open up the AP Hanoi bureau with George Esper. A few days later, I heard about a mother who had four children who had picked up and began to play with a CBU cluster bomb. Two of the children were killed. It was a very sad story. I cried that whole morning after taking the picture of the mother at the grave. People were still dying from the war. It was a shock to me. Even today, people are dying from unexploded bombs and munitions. I thought the war was over when I left in 1975.

You can see more of Nick Ut’s photography at the Associated Press website, www.AP.org.


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