An exhibition in Milan pays tribute to photographer Nick Ut, author of the image that became an icon of the horrors of the Vietnam War
It all started with a blow. Nick Ut, a photographer for the Associated Press agency, was told by a source that on June 8, 1972, the South Vietnamese army was going to bomb the town of Trang Bang, occupied by the communist guerrillas of the Vietcong, who would end up winning the war. war. Together with other colleagues, this Vietnamese reporter who picked up the camera at the age of 16 to replace his older brother, who died in the conflict, spent about three hours documenting with images the horror left by the bombing in Trang Bang. One of Ut's photos, known as 'The Napalm Girl' and with which he won the Pulitzer Prize the following year, would go down in the history of photojournalism and become an icon of the disasters of war.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the taking of that image, an exhibition opens its doors to the public this Friday at the Lombardy Palace in Milan, seat of the government of this region of northern Italy, which covers Ut's professional career through 61 Photographs. Entitled 'From Hell to Hollywood', the exhibition covers from the Vietnam War to his later work in the United States, where he emigrated in 1975. Ut and Kim Phuc, the youngest of 9-year-old star of 'The Napalm Girl' and who now resides in Canada, where she has had two children after escaping from Vietnam and living for a period in Cuba.
«My story is simply that of one of those millions of children who suffered from the war. The difference was made by the photographer, who witnessed what was happening and then left his machine to take me to the hospital. I owe him everything," says Phuc, who had to undergo 17 operations to overcome the injuries. When she returned home after spending 14 months hospitalized, she came across for the first time the photo taken by her Ut, already an international icon. «My father showed it to me, who had cut it out of a newspaper. I felt a little embarrassed because she was naked and dying. I hated that photo and I couldn't see it, I didn't care that she was famous ». Years later she began to change her opinion about the image and what it represents.
"From the Black Cloud"
The photographer well remembers what happened on June 8 half a century ago after the napalm bombardment of the town of Trang Bang began. “When I saw the explosion I thought that everyone would have died, but hundreds of people escaped from the black cloud. There were some who carried the bodies of dying children in their arms. One of them was Phuc's grandmother, who was carrying a 3-year-old boy." Shortly after, the protagonist of 'The Napalm Girl' appeared in front of Ut's camera running in tears. «She was naked because her clothes had been burned by the napalm. I went over to photograph her and when I walked past her I saw that she had her arm and back burned."
It was then that Ut left the camera and walked over to the hatchling, offering her two bottles of water. “She was thinking of pouring it on her wounds, but she yelled at me that she wanted to drink. With a colleague from the BBC we stayed to help her. We put all the children in my van, "explains the reporter, who took the children to a nearby hospital, where they were told that they did not have enough medicine to cure them. He got them to do it by showing the paramedics his press accreditation and warning them that their names would end up in the newspapers if they didn't attend to them.