Photojournalist Nick Ut, best known for his Vietnam War “napalm girl” photo, will retire later this month after 51 years working with the Associated Press.
The newsgathering organization confirmed his retirement on Monday, describing Ut’s as “one of the most distinguished careers in photojournalism.”
Huynh Cong Ut, as the photographer is officially known, owns a portfolio of famous images, and the most stunning of all is the black and white image of a terrified girl running naked and screaming after being burned in a napalm attack on June 8, 1972.
“I cried when I saw her running,” Ut once told an AP reporter. “If I don't help her — if something happened and she died — I think I’d kill myself after that,” said Ut, who set aside his camera and helped take the girl and other victims to hospital. He was 21.
Officially named “The Terror of War,” the photo won its author the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.
It has become one of the most recognizable photos in the world and according to historians, a major inspiration for the anti-war movement.
Facebook received a lot of criticism when it removed the beloved photo from several accounts last September, including that of Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, on the grounds it violated Facebook’s restrictions on nudity.
The photo was quickly reinstated and Facebook said it would learn from the mistake. “These are difficult decisions and we don’t always get it right,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a letter to the prime minister.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the girl in the photo, is now a 54-year-old wife and mother living in Canada, and is a close friend of Ut’s.
Photojournalist Nick Ut and Kim Phuc (L) in Cologne, Germnay in front of a screen showing his iconic 1972 photograph of Phuc running from a napalm attack. Photo by Reuters/Ina Fassbender
Ut asked for a job as a photographer at AP after his brother, an AP reporter, was killed during an assignment in 1965, according to the AP report.
He was hired in January 1966 at the age of 15. He became a combat photographer two years later after capturing pictures of an attack near his home.
He kept the name Nick Ut in honor of colleague Henri Huet who gave him the nickname after others in the bureau had trouble getting his given name straight. Huet died in 1971 after volunteering to take Ut’s place on an assignment during which the helicopter he was in was shot down.
Ut now lives in Los Angeles, and told AP that he plans to spend his retirement helping to take care of his grandchildren and taking more photos.
“I’ll take pictures until I die,” he said. “My camera is like my doctor, my medicine.”