Photography, Fine Art, Wet Plate Collodion, Alternative photography

Nick Ut’s syndrome

with 13 comments

ut2.jpgOn Internet there is a huge issue about Nick Ut‘s picture of Paris Hilton. Actually I didn’t found any reasonable debate, just tons of posts with great disgust disseminating Ut’s work. Here are few: Black Star and Acephalous and and Apostropher.

On the contrary I see nothing wrong with it. Nick Ut is now more then 50 years old, has two children and a wife and obviously he don’t go to war zones anymore. And even if he would go, he can surely not take as strong pictures as he did in Vietnam.

Imagine the dialog of US army official with Nick Ut:
Oh, you’re Nick Ut…
the photographer who took a picture that was a turning point in the Vietnam war…
that picture had a devastating PR effect to US methods of warfare…
you know… we lost that war…
and you want to go to Iraq with our soldiers…

But seriously guys, photojournalism is not about photographers ego and self expression although there is plenty o room for that as well. When I take a stupid pictures of stupid events I always say to myself that a drop of water is still a drop of water even if it drops into the ocean. Myself is still projected through my pictures even if pictures are about trivial people as Paris Hilton.

Sure Nick Ut could turn down the job of photographing Paris Hilton, but I would accepted as he did. You know we photojournalists we love taking all sorts of pictures. It’s fun, it’s exciting and we get payed for it! Sometimes we don’t have a proper equipment and proper knowledge and sometimes we just can’t chew as much as we bite, and it’s true sometimes we do make really lousy pictures, but sometimes we make incredible picture that makes a history. Nick Ut’s picture made the history and lives a life of it’s own.

The Ut’s picture of Paris Hilton will never make it as a good picture but it will make it into history of photojournalism as how low a photojournalist can go. I think that’s unjust. I think the Paris Hilton picture is bad in technical point of view, but as a photo-editor I would still use it because it has so much information.

If I would be Nick Ut, I would be proud as a king who made THE PICTURE, but is not ashamed to take a job of paparazzi picture of Paris Hilton. And I don’t believe he took that picture for the sake of money, but for the sake of passion to take pictures (this two don’t exclude each other).



Written by Borut Peterlin

23 June, 2007 at 23:57

Posted in Photojournalism

13 Responses

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  1. Nick Ut is a great photographer; I wouldn’t think to criticize him or the quality of his work.

    The larger question is whether we have too many journalists covering Paris Hilton and too few covering real stories that affect people’s lives.

    I can’t imagine that there’d be much debate about that one.

    scott baradell

    24 June, 2007 at 00:33

  2. I totally agree with you Borut. It is about responsibillity. Nevertheless he was there and took this pic. And the main point of this picture will always be conected with his previous Work. He would probably not be photojouralist if he wouldnt feel that he must photo Paris.
    Well … just went trough interesting reading of AP newsvalues … among others it sais: “Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we must make a real effort to obtain a response from that person.”

    Anyway: the next question, that we always need to ask, when speaking about ethic – if we would be PH … would we be ok with such photo?
    The answer can be yes and no.
    Nevertheless, this picture was good, cause it opened debate. And this is what gives it value.


    24 June, 2007 at 01:42

  3. @ Scott
    concerning the question if we have too many photographers of PH pictures and not enough covering the real issues, my sympathy would go for less, much less photographers photographing trivial people like PH.

    But the real answer would be the following. I’m not a blind believer in a free market economy, but I think the issue how many photographers covers what topic is a domain of free market economy.

    On the end of the day if Ut would continue to photograph PH in that kind of unusual manner I’m sure he would make a great exhibition, that would be praised all around the world.

    @ Maja
    @ “Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we must make a real effort to obtain a response from that person.”
    I don’t agree with that. I think it’s very flattering if I get a feedback from the person that I’ve portraited, but usually it’s not a feedback that is a valid one. If I portrait someone in a positive or negative manner, I prefer a feedback from a colleague (like yourself) then from a person being portraited.

    Can you imagine Paris Hilton giving feedback to everybody that took her picture? If she would do that she would be a new Susan Sontag 🙂

    If I would be PH I would be OK, because bad publicity for people like PH doesn’t exist. With other words, if I would be PH I wouldn’t give a shit, or I wouldn’t be Paris Hilton, if you know what I mean.

    Cheers for the debate,


    24 June, 2007 at 07:58

  4. I agree. Was actually thinking a lot if this is a negative light or not. I think it is not, also. (but i remove this before from the comment, cause it was too long …) Well, this part of their code was the only one that was a bit connected with this (right?).
    Anyway, this photo will be remembered more because, who was behind the camera …
    I dont mean her directly respond – but if i would be next journalist, who would have interview with her, i would definitely ask for her opinion about this photo.


    24 June, 2007 at 14:59

  5. Oh, I’m not disgusted. As I said in my post, everybody’s gotta eat. It’s just a striking juxtaposition. Also, wasn’t Nick Ut a Vietnamese citizen living in Vietnam when he took the napalm photo?


    24 June, 2007 at 17:57

  6. Apostropher, you are right. Nick Ut was a Vietnamese citizen, but nevertheless can you imagine the situation if he would apply to go to Iraq as embedded journalist?

    he, he,…


    25 June, 2007 at 13:17

  7. @maja – methinks AP guidelines were more for journalistic side than photographic as when they are *writing* somethink negative about someone be sure to get their side of the story. I don’t think it has anything to od with photography.

    Yep, Nick Ut is/was Vietnamese and as apostropher says – everybody gotta eat and i would argue that actually most of photojournalistic work is doing trivial things…


    25 June, 2007 at 19:39

  8. Even more Ivan, Life itself is trivial, as long as we don’t make it otherwise




    25 June, 2007 at 21:32

  9. ivan.. for sure, but there are rules moreorless the same. i mean news values and principles goes to images, graphic, reporting … but there are also images rules, wich have stict rules about manipulation, using PS etc. it doesnt matter …


    25 June, 2007 at 21:53

  10. my point of view: the fact that a renowned photograher shoots pictures of little spoiled blond brat is not as tragic as the fact that the people/consumers are craving information about PH … and not the darfur, afganistan .. of course, here comes the celeb question: what comes first? Egg or hen? … endless debate …


    26 June, 2007 at 09:35

  11. Borut, I don’t think Nick would be rejected as an embedded journalist in Iraq. Only reason why he is not there is probably himself and his employer.


    26 June, 2007 at 18:22

  12. Met Nick Ut this past weekend at a small photo session/get together. I agree with you, Borut, on your point of view. That’s exactly what Nick said when he showed us his photos from past to present. He is doing his job as an AP PJ, who shoots to pay for bills except he does have the remarkable skills of capturing “the” photos with great composition and contrast. And we all asked why it seems like a downgrade for him to become a paparazzi from a warzone photojournalist? The answer from him? Censorship. As much as Nick will like to do what he was good at, the government will not allow someone to “repeat history” again.


    9 July, 2007 at 18:38

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