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Out of the Past: Eddie Adams

By Jill Waterman



Eddie Adams (1933 – 2004)

Eddie Adams had the Midas touch for capturing some of the 20th century’s most indelible images. From his gritty Vietnam coverage during three tours of duty for the Associated Press (AP) to more than 350 portraits of the world’s most celebrated figures produced for the cover of Parade magazine, Adams enjoyed a prolific career spanning journalism, editorial, corporate, fashion, entertainment and advertising photography.

His most iconic image—the 1968 Pulitzer Prize–winning frame showing the street-corner execution of a Vietcong prisoner by the Saigon government’s national chief of police—was also his most infamous. Although it was hastily captured at 1/500 of a second, Adams knew he had something important while waiting for the film to be developed. Yet once the image was released to the world, his bluster over getting the shot became polarized by a responsibility to haunt him for the rest of his career. This photograph, which was widely credited with changing public opinion about the conflict, had universal impact in putting a human face on the cruelty of war.

Nine months after making this picture, Adams left Vietnam for good. He returned to Southeast Asia in 1977 for a story on refugees attempting to flee Communist rule by setting out to sea in small fishing boats. That coverage, “The Boat of No Smiles,” would later play an important role in the U.S. government’s decision to open its doors to 200,000 Vietnamese. Adams considered this to be the most positive and productive story of his career.

Besides his work behind the lens, in 1988 Adams co-founded the Eddie Adams Workshop (EAW), offering 100 students and emerging photographers a unique forum for learning and inspiration. Each October, more than 150 top photography professionals mentor ten workshop teams during an intensive, four-day gathering at Adams’s farm in upstate New York, with Nikon serving as official sponsor.

In 2012, EAW will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and student applications are being accepted through May 25. This tuition-free workshop is one of the most valuable opportunities available to work directly with leaders in the field. To submit your work for consideration, click here

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