Horst Faas: The chronicler of Vietnam who captured horror because he felt it

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Fêted photographer has died aged 79. Adrian Hamilton pays tribute

If the conflicts of today are defined by the video grabs and digital shots of the amateur observers at the scene, the wars and disasters of the last century were pictured in the work of the professional photojournalists seeking, often at great personal danger, the still image that would encompass a scene. None were more courageous or hard-bitten than the German photographer Horst Faas, who became famous for his work with the Associated Press during the Vietnam War.

If the world now has a sense of a bitter conflict fought with great brutality and enormous suffering to the civilian population it is thanks in large part to the work of Faas and other photographers such as Donald McCullin and Tim Page. War through their lens took on the image not of the mass destruction of the First World War newsreel photographers or the heroism and massed arms of the Second World War, but the individual act of brutality, the airborne destruction and the outright fear of a messy conflict without honour, still less glory.

Not that Faas would have put it that way. An agency photographer all his life, his philosophy was the classic creed of the front-line reporter: "I tried to be in the newspaper every day, to beat the opposition with better photos." That belied a spirit that was anything but uninvolved. If Faas won four major international prizes for his work, including two Pulitzers, it was because he pictured horror with the close-up ferocity of a man who, like McCullin, felt it.

His best shots – of terrified civilians clutching each other in fear as the bombs start dropping, of the soldier bayoneting the floored figure of an assumed enemy, the grieving father holding up the body of his naked dead child to a passing truckload of troops and the two children clutching their mothers and staring up at the grim face of a US infantryman – have an urgency and compassion that are deeply moving.

They were photographs bought at great personal danger. None more so than the agency employees required to get into the thick of action, to take the seminal shot with the clarity needed to reproduce it in the magazines and newspapers of the time and, not least, to get it back to the office in time for the early editions. Faas was renowned for his bravery but also his organisational ability. He got so many good shots because he worked out where the action was likely to be. From an apprenticeship covering conflicts in the Congo and Algeria, he moved to Saigon in 1962. As head of AP's picture desk, he took pictures and trained others. Two of the most famous images of the Vietnam conflict – Nick Ut's shot of a girl fleeing a napalm attack and Eddie Adams' picture of the execution of a Viet Cong suspect – were both taken on his watch.

Partially crippled by a rocket propelled grenade in 1967, he went on to cover the war in Bangladesh, the seizure of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and to act as senior picture editor for AP in Europe. Shooting or editing, he was the hardest-nosed of professionals in an age when the photojournalist was the most dangerous job of all.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition