On Being Ready

Forty years ago last month, Nick Ut made one of the most iconic images of war ever, a photo of a young Vietnamese girl running, naked, after her village was attacked by her own air force*.

The story of that day has been told again and again, the image is in nearly every book on photojournalism. But there were other photojournalists there, and even a television crew, none of whose work is as well known.

One of the other shooters there was one of my heroes, David Burnett. And, last month, he wrote about that June day … and how he wasn’t quite ready.

My own memories of looking at frame counters, wondering if I should pull film at frame 28 during a lull, are still vivid. It’s a heart-wrenching decision as history, local or international, unfolds in front of you.

* A little more than half-way down that ABC News page is a photo of Ut with Kim Phuc. Look carefully at it, look at the equipment he’s carrying. Two cameras, two fixed-focal length lenses. Simplicity.

Mark E. Johnson

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