Nick Ut’s ‘napalm girl’ photo was published 42 years ago

People | PetaPixel

Associated Press photographer Nick Ut took a photo of children running from a botched napalm attack on June 8, 1972. “I thought she was going to die,” he tells Nate Jones about Kim Phuc, the naked girl in the center of the photo.

Ut’s famous photo shows children, including Kim Phuc, center, running down a highway after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped napalm on civilians. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Ut got Kim Phuc and other children admitted to a hospital using his media pass, Jones writes. Phuc “was very upset about the picture,” the photographer said. Eventually her fame “paid off,” Jones writes: “The government allowed her to go to school in Cuba, where she fell in love with another Vietnamese student. In 1992, coming back from their honeymoon, the newly married couple sought asylum in Canada. Today Phuc is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador living in Ontario with her husband and their two sons.” She and Ut, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo, remain in touch.

Ut told Michael Zhang in PetaPixel about filing the photo on the occasion of its 40th anniversary:

After the film developing finished, we looked at my negatives. When my picture editor looked at one of the photos, he was shocked, and said, “Nicky, why did you take pictures of a naked girl?” He didn’t know. Then I explained that a napalm attack had hit a village. He was shocked when I said that, and selected one negative. He took it to the darkroom, and made a 5×7 print of it.

Then we went back to the light table, and waited for my boss to come and two other editors to come. The two editors came after lunch. When they saw the picture, they said, “We don’t think we can use the picture in the paper, because she’s too naked.”

When my boss came back and saw the pictures, he asked, “Who took the pictures?” They said, “Nick Ut.” He asked, “Why didn’t we send these pictures right away?” The editors replied, “You think these are pictures we can use? Because she’s naked.”

My boss looked at me, and asked, “What happened?” I said, “A napalm attack.” He ordered everyone to move, and looked through all the negatives again. He looked through twelve to fifteen pictures, and then yelled to the editors, “I want a caption on these pictures right away!”

One of the editors asked him again, “You think we can use the pictures?” My boss replied, “I don’t care. Write a caption. Move!” The editors sent the picture to New York to let them decide whether to use it or not. When New York saw the power in the photo, they said they wanted to use the picture right away.

The picture was immediately on the front page of every newspaper and on TVs. The newspaper called me and said, “Nicky, good job. Congratulations. Good picture.”

Kim Phuc and Nick Ut in California in 2012. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Related: Kenny Irby on tough war images: “Citizens can make their own best choices when armed with honest information.”

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  • Alfred Ingram

    There are pictures that start wars. This picture started the beginnings of the end of a war. It wasn’t just shock. The pictures of Buddhist monks setting themselves afire schocked. The idea that we, America, were burning children alive stopped mein my tracks. The war would never be something that wasn’t really my business ever again.