Horst Faas, great news photographer, dies at 79

By Chris Daly

One of the most important photographers and photo editors of the last century has died. Horst Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner during his long career at The Associated Press, was 79.

Obits are here and here and here.

Horst Faas in a heroic pose / AP Photo

Faas really made his mark in Vietnam, where he was stationed from 1962 through 1973. There, he planned the coverage, trained new photographers and photo stringers, edited many of the most memorable images of the war, and shot photos himself. From the tiny darkroom in the bathroom of the AP’s Saigon bureau, he was responsible for much of the “look” of the war.

Two photos are always associated with Faas and his constant efforts to disseminate photos that would show the reality of war:

–in 1968, during the Tet Offensive, the AP photographer Eddie Adams snapped a photo of a South Vietnamese officer executing a Vietcong prisoner. The photo caught the very moment when the bullet entered the prisoner’s head and captured something about the offhand violence of the war.

Eddie Adams / AP Photo

–in 1972, he fought to transmit the unforgettable image of a young girl fleeing naked and screaming from a napalm attack. The picture was shot by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese photographer trained by Faas, and the decision to send it out was one that Faas fought hard for. I remember seeing it on the front page of the Boston Globe on the day it was published in 1972 and never could forget it.

Nick Ut / AP Photo

As I discovered in researching my new book on the history of journalism, Covering America, Faas was also responsible for another of the most emblematic photos of the Vietnam War, the photo from 1962 of a monk burning himself to death in protest against the government of South Vietnam. The photo was taken by AP correspondent Malcolm Browne. But Browne was a reporter/writer, not a photographer. The only reason he was carrying a camera that day was that Faas insisted that all AP correspondents learn to take photos and carry cameras with them. Back at home, union rules forbade AP correspondents from shooting photos, but in Vietnam, those rules didn’t apply, and Faas wisely turned everyone into a photographer.

Recently, while researching the photos for my book, I came across Faas photo. This is a photo that I knew I wanted for my book, but I had a devil of a time figuring out who owned the rights to it. I had seen it variously credited to TIME and the New York Times (both wrong) and to the AP (not quite right either). It is a photo that shows three of the key U.S. correspondents stationed in Saigon during the early years of the war: David Halberstam of the Times, Mal Browne of the AP, and Neil Sheehan of UPI (later of the Times). They are standing around in front of a helicopter. Browne is smoking and Sheehan holds a big map.


According to Faas, he took the photo himself. And he told me that he took it with his own personal camera and that it never belonged to AP. But rather than rile the AP and its lawyers, he sent me the image directly via email and said to go ahead and use it with his blessing. Here’s what he wrote late last year:

I took the photo at the time as a personal picture and should have it in my personal computer files. I will look for it beginning next week: No time now – I am off for a quick trip (without my computer). Since all my material at the time was officially AP material I don”t want to get in conflict with AP and would give you the photo “courtesy of..” i.e. free of charge, In return I would be interested in a copy of your book once it is published. OK?

Best regards, Horst Faas

Thanks again, Horst.

I also want to share another photo that Faas sent me (“courtesy of” the photographer). It shows the press corps in Saigon in 1963:

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2 Comments

Filed under Journalism, journalism history

2 responses to “Horst Faas, great news photographer, dies at 79

  1. William Hixson

    I would like to know more about the personal photo you include that Faas took showing Halberstam, Sheehan, and Browne in front of the helicopter. My father-in-law was Ivan Slavich, the major commanding the armed helicopter unit flying Faas and the press corps around Vietnam in 1962-63, I’m pretty sure that was one of his choppers. My wife is building a wiki article on her father and his interaction with the press was important to the war reporting. I would love to discover any information or photos that might touch on this nexus of military and press.

    • profdaly

      Gosh, what an amazing connection. Unfortunately, Horst sent me just the one photo, and he did not say anything about the chopper or the military crew. Shortly after he wrote to me, he passed away, so I’m afraid I am at a loss. Maybe the AP public relations office could help.

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