Inside Out – August 07

They don’t make them anymore like Horst Faas. Anyone who had the privilege of hearing Faas at two recent Frontline Club events held in association with The Associated Press would have come away with that feeling.

Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his photography, is now 74 and confined to a wheel chair. He nearly lost his life in Vietnam – the place that made his reputation as one of the great defining journalists of the war. He’d gone back there two years ago to be part of a gathering of Vietnam-era journalists and to help train young Vietnamese photojournalists.

He and Tim Page, another legendary Vietnam War photographer, along with other photojournalists including Gary Knight, have established an Indochina Media Memorial Foundation and raised money and donated their time and shared their expertise. But Faas suffered a blood clot in the spine while there and is lucky to be alive.

Old friends and competitive rivals of Horst Faas need not worry that he’s lost any of his wit, cantankerous behaviour, and trenchant, often controversial views about photojournalism and the world of media.

Faas is scathing about the Pentagon’s restrictions on shooting pictures of dead or wounded American soldiers in Iraq. He notes that the iconic pictures of American soldiers in Vietnam could never have been taken if the Pentagon had imposed the same rules demanding signatures and approvals.

Nor could he have co-edited with Page one of the finest and most moving books on photojournalism – Requiem. None of his or Page’s photographs is displayed. Instead every photograph published in Requiem was taken by a photojournalist who was killed in Vietnam, including pictures rarely or never seen that were taken by fallen Viet Cong or North Vietnamese photographers.

Faas isn’t a knee-jerk critic of the military; indeed, Faas to this day defends much of the censorship that he endured in Vietnam. “We had it from day one,” he says. He also practised what he called acceptable self-censorship that saw him putting down his camera rather than taking pictures of the blown-up bodies and severed limbs of American soldiers.

But he said that many soldiers were “grateful for the drastic pictures” taken of them in combat because they showed “the reality, their fears, their pain, and their frustrations.”