Since its invention in the 19th century, photography has become essential to the telling of history. Nick Ut and Mark Edward Harris, award-winning photographers who have had considerable impact on both photojournalism and history, visited Suffolk this week to teach and connect with the community.
Ut won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for “Napalm Girl,” photographed during the Vietnam War. Harris is known largely for travel photography in countries not widely shown in mainstream media. His book North Korea was named the “Photography Book of the Year” at the International Photography Awards.
Political and historical relevance
The two photographers were on campus as distinguished visiting scholars. Their politically and historically significant photojournalism remains their most relevant and historic work.
Ut’s iconic photograph of the naked, screaming little girl running away from her village, Trang Bang which was bombed by South Vietnamese planes, is, to this day, one of the most strikingly horrific images of the Vietnam War, or, arguably, the 20th century.
Harris’ work depicts recently ravaged countries such as Iran and politically isolated country such as North Korea. Due to complicated and often-hostile relations with the United States, images of daily life in these countries — at decisive points in their histories — are largely unseen by the American public.
Harris, who says that his passions are travel and history, also photographed Japan in the wake of the tsunami, depicting the nation at a time when documentation was sorely lacking, work that is vital to the eventual report of history.
Harris stresses the importance of remembering the historical context of countries like North Korea and the role that the United States often plays in the devolution of these nations to their current states.
“The U.S. is unwilling to take accountability,” he said. “We have to be respectful.”
This political ambiguity is not only important to the United States’ current international relations, but it also is destined to be historically vital. Ut’s “Napalm Girl” is an instantly recognizable image, burned into the minds of all who view it—and it continues to play a key role in marking the Vietnam War as one of brutal violence and inexcusable collateral damage.
Unexpected Boston-Vietnam connection
Ut, like Harris, has a passion for history. Staying at the Omni Parker Hotel during his visit to Boston, he was excited to be in a place where Ho Chi Minh once worked. The man who later became a revolutionary leader and prime minster and president of Vietnam had worked in the kitchens at the Omni Parker during the 1910s.
Ut was “happy” to eat in a restaurant where guests would have once eaten pastries prepared by this famous Vietnamese figure. “This building has a great history,” he said.