It’s like a still from a guerilla movie, but no, this photograph of a man slaying another man is authentic. Bold and brutal. Cold and condescending. War, even only seen in photographs, is indeed inhuman.
It was during the Vietnam War when Eddie Adams, an American combat photographer, captured this Pulitzer-prize winning picture of a chief police, Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, murdering a prisoner, Nguyễn Văn Lém.
Even if the events are well-documented, this picture is still misinterpreted as “a bad man killing a good man.” In reality, Lem committed numerous war crimes and even murdered the family members of high ranking government officials. “…And I think Buddha will forgive me,” Loan said.
This photograph, indeed, claimed fame for Adams’ career as a photographer – amidst his countless achievements in the field, this sinful image became the most iconic. According to him, though, two people died in the photograph: one was killed by the bullet and the other one was killed by his camera.
Adams felt guilty for causing damage to Loan’s reputation. He later apologized to Loan and his family and he was gravely saddened when the general passed away. To Adams, Loan was a hero.
Despite the symbolism this photograph depicts, it struck the whole world and has a lot of imitations and renditions in photography and the arts.
Which other photographs do you think are influential? Post a hyperlink to the image in the comments – if you know it, please include the photographer’s name and the year the photo was taken.
Our intention with the Influential Photographs columns is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.