Influential Photographs: Loan Executing Lem, 1968 by Eddie Adams


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.

“Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.” – Eddie Adams (image source:

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.

written by basterda on 2011-03-04 #lifestyle #black-and-white #classic #war #iconic #eddie-adams #nguyen-ngoc-loan #nguyen-van-lem #influential-photographs-series


  1. disasterarea
    disasterarea ·

    Great to hear more about this iconic photography...well done

  2. lighttomysoul
    lighttomysoul ·

    this is one very influential picture
    and more information about it and the photographer here:ị_Kim_Phúc

  3. atreyuthechild
    atreyuthechild ·

    I have recently been working at a place called 'The Frontline Club'... an exclusive club in London for frontline war videographers and photographers. There are so many iconic, thought provoking and shocking images mounted on every wall. I often wonder about the story behind these powerful photographs.

  4. wonderdude
    wonderdude ·

    Powerful stuff -- I'd like to see more articles like this here!

    I do have to point out, however, that Loan was not Vietcong (North Vietnamese). He was with the south side (Republic of Vietnam).

  5. basterda
    basterda ·

    Thank you for pointing that out, @wonderdude. I'll fix that part of the text!

    Stay tuned for more articles like this in the days to come. :)

  6. gabysalas
    gabysalas ·

    @atreyuthechild maybe you can take some pictures of the place or write a bit more about it, I am sure the community wouild love to see more. PM me if you have any questions about submitting an article.

  7. hanifmaidin
    hanifmaidin ·

    this make everyone want to be war photographer

  8. carsten-schmitt
    carsten-schmitt ·

    Wow, that was interesting. I knew the picture of course but I did not know much about the background. A good reminder of how an image taken out of its context can take on a totally different meaning in the eyes of the beholder

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