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Eddie Adams: Vietnam

edited by Alyssa Adams, Umbrage Editions Books, March 2009, $50

Since the advent of the art of photography a century and a half ago, millions and millions of split seconds have been frozen for eternity, becoming, to the beholder, a solid, uncontrovertable document that tells us “the” story—even better than a thousand words. Some images do in fact speak volumes, but no single image can tell the whole story. No less an authority than Eddie Adams, one of the most celebrated photographers ever, says so emphatically in commentaries that accompany a collection of his work. A stunning picture book that grabs you and won’t let go, Eddie Adams: Vietnam, also tells us to be wary of believing we can see more in an image than meets the eye.

Gracing the book jacket of this brilliant work, which covers Vietnam from 1965 to 1977 with a brief detour to Detroit’s riotous summer of 1967, is one of the most iconic images in history, the summary execution of a VC guerrilla on a Saigon street during Tet 1968. Included is a sequence of Adams’ shots, following the young cuffed man as he is pulled down the street and finally shoved in front of National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who proceeds to put a pistol to his temple and blow his brains out. Gruesome. Brutal. An evocation of all that was wrong in Vietnam? No, says Adams, and through his notes and diaries he goes to great lengths to tell us why that picture, in a number of ways, was a lie. “It doesn’t tell you why that happened.…You don’t see all sides of it. But pictures are very important because people believe photos.”

The 1968 Pulitzer Prize winner credits his own Marine service in Korea for keeping him alive in Vietnam and, perhaps just as important, enabling him to be in the right place at the right time. After Vietnam, Adams continued on for a stellar career as one of the world’s best-known photojournalists, up until his death in 2004.

Eddie Adams: Vietnam includes never-before-published Adams photos, a narrative by Hal Buell and insights from colleagues including Tom Brokaw, Peter Arnett, David Halberstam, Bob Schieffer and Morley Safer.

Editor Alyssa Adams writes that were he still living, Eddie Adams would have not let this book happen, most notably because of his enduring discomfort with the impact of that image on the cover. We are fortunate that Adams has helped us to finally see the whole picture.


Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here