Philip Jones Griffiths (1936 – 2008)

[video:brightcove:1394647866] After a lengthy battle with cancer, Philip Jones Griffiths sadly passed away on Wednesday 19 March. Philip was a Frontline Club member and was widely considered to be one of the greatest war photographers of the twentieth century. He is best remembered for his work on the war in Vietnam – his seminal book Vietnam Inc (1971) shook American perceptions of the war and became one of the classics of photojournalism. It was the visual point of reference for many Hollywood Vietnam films including Apocalypse Now. His commitment to Vietnam went beyond the war; he visited the country another 26 times after peace was declared and released two more books: Vietnam at Peace, which studied the effects of the war and globalisation on the people of Vietnam and Agent Orange, which looked at the humanitarian effects of chemical warfare on the population. At the Frontline Club we will remember him fondly for his humanity, good humour, insight and the times he gave us sharing his work.
UPDATE: Stuart Franklin at the Magnum in Motion blog posts about his memories of Philip and his work at the agency,

The world that I grew up in will be, from today, a poorer place. It is with great sadness I have to write that Philip – a monumental, irrepressible force in photography and in life – and a courageous fighter against the cancer that finally defeated him – passed away last night. link

UPDATE: VietNamNet writes about Philip’s dedication to the country,

Although he had a bulky collection of photos about the third world, including Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, Viet Nam is still the most important part in his career. link

UPDATE: The International Herald Tribune publishes an obituary today,

A London newspaper editor once told him to remember to answer the five basic questions in every photo caption — who, what, why, where and when. Griffiths said the first two and last two struck him as merely perfunctory. “It’s the one in the middle that counts,” he said. “To me that’s our task, to say ‘Why?’ ” link

UPDATE: Amateur Photographer Magazine laments the passing of Philip and adds,

It has emerged that during the last weeks of his life the photographer had been putting together a collection of photographs he had captured in Cambodia. link

UPDATE: Philip’s local Welsh paper, The Daily Post, pays tribute,

In 2001, he visited the National Eisteddfod which was held near Denbigh that year, where his work was being exhibited in the Arts and Crafts tent. “I’m a product of Dyffryn Clwyd and it’s always good to be home”, he said at the time. link

UPDATE: Aperture obituary in the form of a slideshow and an interview with William Messer.
UPDATE: BBC News obituary,

Current Magnum president Stuart Franklin said: “Philip enriched all our lives with his courage, his empathy, his passion, his wit and his wisdom; and for many he gave to photojournalism its moral soul. “He died as he wanted so passionately that we should live – in peace.” link

UPDATE: From The Times including a slideshow,

The photographer, however, repeatedly declared that he had no particular animus against the Americans or their Vietnamese allies. He was, he said, not so much seeking to tell the truth about this war, as about all wars. link

UPDATE: The National Press Photographer’s Association brings together a number of people who remember Philip,

“Philip saw beyond the military dimension of war,” John G. Morris wrote tonight from Paris. “He sought to cover it in terms of cause (his book ‘Vietnam Inc.’) and effect (his book ‘Agent Orange’). A man of courage and conviction, he exemplified photojournalism at its best.” Morris was the first editorial director of Magnum Photos, hired in the early days by his friends Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
“Philip Jones Griffiths was one of the giants of our business. His photographs of Vietnam in particular will have an everlasting impact on all who see them,” David Hume Kennerly said today.
“I salute a fallen comrade whose life was about photography and picturing the truth.” As a young photographer working for United Press International, Kennerly won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his photographs of the Vietnam war. link

UPDATE: NPR’s Alex Chadwick pays tribute to Philip. Alex first met Philip in Saigon.
UPDATE: The Guardian, where Philip did some early work, has an obituary with a quote from a recent interview,

“I’ve had a hood put over my head [in Vietnam] and been taken out to be shot. When my executioners cocked their rifles and fired, they missed. Obviously I was scared, but kept thinking this was a more dignified way to go than dying in a car crash. I didn’t piss my pants and I’m very proud of that.” link

UPDATE: The Australian runs an obituary with comments from Tim Page,

“For the photographer, it’s a question of how are you going to make people think twice. If you show them the horror and the brutality, maybe there’s the wake-up factor,” Page says. He says Vietnam Inc “started to sell like crazy” because it was the “quintessential anti-war book”. link

UPDATE: TIME Magazine run a slideshow selection of Philip’s images through the years.
UPDATE: John Pilger writes an obituary in the New Statesman that is in part taken from his introduction to Philip’s last book Vietnam at Peace,

“My objective,” he said, “was not to allow my positive feelings towards them as individuals to cloud the fact that they were prosecuting a genocidal war.” Iraq, he said recently, “is only different because every soldier seems to have a digital camera”. link

UPDATE: The LA Times runs an obituary.
UPDATE: Philip is posthumously honoured by the Vietnamese government with the “For Peace and Friendship among Peoples” insignia, the highest distinction of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organisations.

2 comments

  1. Philip was one of my oldest and closest friends. We first met in Cambodia 35 years ago. We swam out of a fire fight together the first time I was wounded, dragging our cameras behind us. Since those days together, we have met in many places – Hanoi, Bangkok, Hong Kong, New York, LA and the last time in London.

    Most of what I know about photography, I learned from Philip. I just read an interview in Aperture today. Most of what’s in it I had heard from Philip in our many, endless conversations, but reading his views and philosophy so eloquently stated is very moving, especially on this sad day.

  2. If Philip would have talked to you only once in your life, you’d never foreget his words nor lessons that he left with you. His smile and wit will remain in my mind for forever.
    It is a sad lost for the world. A faboulous photographer, true friend to so many, my mentor and hero that will remain in our hearts and spirits.
    My thoughts with his family.

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