How does an image become an icon? It is estimated that we now produce more images in two minutes than we did in the entire 19th century. How, then, can one image be so powerful it can symbolise the horror of war and help mobilise anti-war sentiment?
June 8 marks the 50 year anniversary since Associated Press photographer Hyung Cong “Nick” Út captured one of the Vietnam War’s defining images.
Titled “Accidental Napalm”, the black-and-white still photograph has since been repeatedly reproduced and continues to survive in collective memory.
Despite its age, the image continues to retain the capacity to shock. A little girl is naked and running directly towards the spectator. She is leaning slightly forward, and her arms are held out from her body.
Her proximity to the camera’s lens is a direct address to the viewer: her agony and terror is unambiguous.
Phan Thị Kim Phúc
A battle was underway in South Vietnam between the South Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong.
Several journalists had assembled just outside the village of Trảng Bàng, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese forces. South Vietnamese planes flew overhead and dropped four napalm bombs.
A few moments later, a group of terrified survivors – including children – came running through the smoke and down the road towards the group of journalists.
In the immediate left foreground, there is a boy screaming in terror. To the right, holding hands, two more children are running.
The spectator’s eye moves restlessly around the photograph, searching for details. A photographer reloads film into his camera.