Photographer Nick Ut

Photographer Nick Ut

I’ve been thinking about Nick Ut (b. 1951) recently, and how young some combat photographers are. It turns out that this past Sunday, June 8, 1972 marked the 42nd anniversary of the day Ut took his most famous photograph. He was just 21 years old at the time and had been a professional photojournalist for five years already.

Isn’t that amazing? Ut documented war for the Associated Press from the tender age of 16. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother Huynh Thanh My, a veteran photographer who had died in 1965.

Ut’s photograph of naked Kim Phuc running down Highway 1 after a napalm attack is one of the iconic images from the Vietnam War yet, when it was taken, it was rarely published. According to a recent article by Nate Jones for People Magazine, “cautious journalists in America wondered if the nudity was too extreme for their front pages.” Ut still won a Pulitzer for it, however, becoming the youngest photographer recipient to date.

Nick Ut Napalm Girl

Vietnam Napalm 1972 – South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Nick Ut’s photograph of Kim Phuc is frequently used to discuss ethics in photojournalism. In my mind, he did exactly the right thing: captured the image and then provided help (he got Kim a coat and drove her to the hospital). What do you think? 


Nick Ut with “Napalm Girl” Kim Phuc, 1973


Now retired from war zones but not photography, Ut covers Los Angeles for the Associated Press. As quoted by Nate Jones, “When you’re over 60, what do you do?,” Ut says. “I’m fighting the paparazzi in Hollywood – that’s my war.”

Nick Ut - AP

Los Angeles police officers Adrian Garcia, right, and his partner Christopher Ballerini buckle their seat belts Tuesday as they prepare to leave the LAPD’s Pacific Division for patrol in Los Angeles. (Nick Ut/AP)

For more of Ut’s work, check out the Vietnam Reporting Project, his AP Collection, or the full text of Nate Jones’ article.

What would you ask Nick Ut, if you could ask him anything? Please share in the comments.

Kate Watson