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In remembrance of combat photographer Horst Faas, 1933-2012

By Don North 
Originally published by Vietnam magazine. Published Online: May 17, 2012 
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In 2008, Horst Faas appeared at the Newseum in Washington to pay tribute to the photographers who went down in a helicopter over Laos. (Photo: Don North)
In 2008, Horst Faas appeared at the Newseum in Washington to pay tribute to the photographers who went down in a helicopter over Laos. (Photo: Don North)
In 1965 as a green kid with a $30 35mm Yashika and a fixed 50mm lens, I had the gall to try to sell photos to Horst Faas in Vietnam. He was always welcoming no matter how pedestrian my photos were…and they often were. He would point out how I could improve my photos and for 10 bucks American cash for each photo he chose, and 15 if shot in combat, he often bought more than I think he ever wired to AP in New York. "Use your light meter more, Don," he admonished as he put rolls of fresh film into my hands. "But I don't have one," I replied. "Then shoot at 500 and eight and I'll fix it in the bathroom," Horst would say thrusting his head out of the office bathroom he used for a darkroom.

How many hundreds of aspiring Vietnam journalists did Horst befriend and encourage? When it became clear I was better at writing extended captions than taking photos, I sought more writing strings and later joined ABC News as a TV correspondent. But the early nurturing by Horst in my first days of Vietnam gave me a lifelong admiration for photographers who worked the battlefield every day like they were commuting to their office. His counsel to me instilled an appreciation of the power of still photographs that is evident in my film and video documentaries today where I frequently use still photos.

The last time I saw Horst was 2008 at the Newseum here in Washington paying tribute to the photographers who went down in a helicopter over Laos. My photo of him doesn't show it, but it must have been a terrible ordeal for him in his final years bound to that wheelchair. But his usual good humor and courage always got him through to the end. RIP Horst. –Don North


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