|Obituary: Eddie Adams / New Kensington native who won Pulitzer for photo of execution
Monday, September 20, 2004
Eddie Adams, a photojournalist whose half-century of arresting work was defined by a single frame -- a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo of a communist guerrilla being executed in a Saigon street during the Vietnam War -- died yesterday in New York City. He was 71. [...]
"Eddie Adams was an enormous talent and an inspiration to generations of AP photographers and staffers. His courage and creativity left a mark that will live forever," said AP President and CEO Tom Curley.
In addition to his photographs of 13 wars, Mr. Adams' images of politics, fashion and show business appeared on countless magazine covers and in newspapers around the world. His portraits of presidents ranged from Richard Nixon to President Bush, and those of world figures included Pope John Paul II, Deng Xiaoping, Anwar Sadat, Fidel Castro and Mikhail Gorbachev.
But fame -- instant, enduring and discomforting -- resulted from a single photo taken Feb. 1, 1968, the second day of the communists' Tet Offensive, in the embattled streets of Cholon, Saigon's Chinese quarter. Drawn by gunfire, Mr. Adams and an NBC film crew watched South Vietnamese soldiers bring a handcuffed Viet Cong captive to a street corner, where they assumed he would be interrogated. Instead, South Vietnam's police chief, Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, strode up, wordlessly drew a pistol and shot the man in the head.
Mr. Adams caught the instant of death in a photo that made front pages worldwide. It would become one of the Vietnam's War's most indelible images, shocking the American public and used by critics to dispute official claims that the war was being won. In later years, Mr. Adams found himself so defined and haunted by the picture that he would not display it at his studio. He also felt it unfairly maligned Loan, who lived in Virginia after the war and died in 1998.
"The guy was a hero," Mr. Adams said, recalling Loan's explanation that the man he executed was a Viet Cong captain, responsible for murdering the family of Loan's closest aide a few hours earlier. "Sometimes a picture can be misleading because it does not tell the whole story," Mr. Adams said in an interview for a 1972 AP photo book. "I don't say what he did was right, but he was fighting a war and he was up against some pretty bad people." Mr. Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for the Saigon execution picture, among the more than 500 honors he received.
Born on June 12, 1933, in New Kensington, Mr. Adams began his photojournalism career at the New Kensington Dispatch. He was an usher at the former Dattola Theater in the Westmoreland County town while in junior high school and one day wandered into the camera shop next door. Shop owner Lou Cavaliere sold Mr. Adams a $24.95 Kodak camera on credit. "I sold it to him for $2 a week, and as a joke I tell everybody that he missed his last payment and he owed me $2 for about 35 years," Cavaliere, owner of Ken Kamera, told The Pittsburgh Press in 1991.
Mr. Adams served as a Marine Corps combat photographer in the Korean War . He worked for the AP from 1962 to 1972 and from 1976 to 1980, and with Time-Life, Parade magazine and other publications. A crafter of images, Mr. Adams also cultivated his own -- a prickly personality with a studied flamboyance that included a black wardrobe, a neck scarf and a wide-brimmed porkpie hat. [...]