Keep Looking

February 2003

by Gloria Emerson


I was upset to recently read a description of the American press corps in Vietnam in the Living section of the Boston Globe which ran an article on a documentary in progress that captures "the protagonists -- male and female -- in all their tough, boozy, bawdy glory."

Shame on you, Mark Jurkowitz, for being so careless. He probably had Tim Page in mind, an Englishman, who for all his wild excesses, has done fine work. Many of us were indeed different and none more so than the late Larry Burrows who not only was an astoundingly gifted photographer but an elegant human being. All the war is in his work.

"Larry was a gentleman, an open and generous man who always knew the correct way to behave," said Philip Jones Griffiths, the famous Magnum photographer who knew Burrows when they were in Vietnam. Both were British.

"He was a rare bird to be found in that situation, in that milieu," he added, "He always knew the risk, he was the consummate professional. He only appeared foolhardy at times but he was more experienced than most professional soldiers. It always made sense to ask him what the situation was."

Both of us can see him so many years later: a tall rangy man who would help another photographer or a GI in extremis. Jones Griffiths is beginning to sound a little sad talking about his old friend.

"He never wore a helmet," he said. "They get in your way if you want to take a vertical picture."

Not your average boozy bawdy type at all.

I have a tiny memory of Burrows which I carry like a charm. It was an ordinary day in the long war and five or six of us were on a chopper going to I Corps. He was the most distinctive of all of us, the young face showing deep lines. He always wore a small face towel around his neck to blot the sweat and hold the dust. It was nothing that he said that makes the memory important. It is the way he kept looking out of the chopper at the beautiful countryside below: the shining rice paddies, the range of greens, the people. It was as if this was the first time he had seen Vietnam when he had been photographing the war for years. One other man was reading a paperback and two others were half asleep. No one was paying attention except Burrows. Keep looking I used to say to myself, trudging through the long war that went on and on. Keep looking. It was what this exceptional man had taught me.

© Gloria Emerson

Gloria Emerson served as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times from 1965 to 1972, the last three years in Vietnam. Winners & Losers, her book drawn from that experience, was honored with the National Book Award for Nonfiction. In 2000, she turned novelist with the publication of Loving Graham Greene..

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