Remembering Eddie Adams
My father was a wire service reporter in Spain and Portugal in the '60s and '70s, working for UPI and then briefly for the AP. As a young boy, I'd spend long hours in the wire service offices of the day, with their noisy telexes and the steady whistling of the wirephoto transmitters chugging away at single speed AM or FM - when it took a quarter of an hour to send one black-and-white photo. Those were the days of film, and black-and-white prints and hammering captions onto sticky white paper in real typewriters before carefully placing an 8 x 10-inch print onto a drum that was then scanned by an optical eye as it spun steadily around and around and around and around, whistling a signal as it went.
I think it was in Lisbon in about 1975 or 1976, at just 9 or 10 years of age, that I first saw Eddie's famous photos of the execution in Vietnam. I couldn't believe it, didn't really understand it fully, except that it was clearly the last moment of a man's life. For a boy brought up on war comics and Hollywood movies it seemed awfully unreal, but awful all the same. It grabbed my eyes and glued them to the image, sticky, like that caption paper on the prints of the day. The image was seared onto my retinas and still is, almost 30 years later, when after 20 years as a wire service photographer myself, I sit at my New York desk as the AP's Director of Photography.
My work over those years took me to many places and not a few wars myself. I had my fill of death and destruction before recently moving on to coordinating AP's photo coverage around the globe. But Eddie's image, along with those of Robert Capa, Larry Burrows, Don McCullin, and Jim Nachtwey, were certainly inspirational to me, and I dare say to a whole generation of photographers seeking to tell the truth in the darker corners of the world, to give voice to those without one.
That image set a standard, perhaps an impossibly high one, but showed that a camera at the right place at the right time could and does serve as a vivid and necessary window into the madness of our troubled world. No one seeing such images can ever pretend such terrible things never happened.
I'll not pretend to be a good friend of Eddie's - we've only met twice, and never worked together - but he struck me on both occasions as being warm and human and honest-eyed and upright and certainly worthy of all our respect.
© Santiago Lyon
Director of Photography at The Associated Press
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