Larry Burrows: Vietnam

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9780375411021: Larry Burrows: Vietnam

In the heat of battle, in the devastated countryside, among troops and civilians equally hurt by the
savagery of war, Larry Burrows photographed the conflict in Vietnam from 1962, the earliest days of American involvement, until 1971, when he died in a helicopter shot down on the Vietnam–Laos border. His images, published in Life magazine, brought the war home, scorching the consciousness of the public and inspiring much of the anti-war sentiment that convulsed American society in the 1960s.

To see these photo essays today, gathered in one volume and augmented by unpublished images from the Burrows archive, is to experience (or to relive), with extraordinary immediacy, both the war itself and the effect and range of Larry Burrows’s gifts—his courage: to shoot “The Air War,” he strapped himself and his camera to the open doorway of a plane . . . his reporter’s instinct: accompanying the mission of the helicopter Yankee Papa 13, he captured the transformation of a young marine crew chief experiencing the death of fellow marines . . . and his compassion: in “Operation Prairie” and “A Degree of Disillusion” he published profoundly affecting images of exhausted, bloodied troops and maimed Vietnamese children, both wounded, physically and psychologically, by the ever-escalating war.

The photographs Larry Burrows took in Vietnam, magnificently reproduced in this volume, are brutal, poignant, and utterly truthful, a stunning example of photojournalism that recorded history and achieved the level of great art. Indeed, in retrospect, says David Halberstam in his moving introduction, “Larry Burrows was as much historian as photographer and artist. Because of his work, generations born long after he died will be able to witness and understand and feel the terrible events he recorded. This book is his last testament.”

With 150 illustrations, 100 in full color

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About the Author:

Larry Burrows (1926–71) was born in England, went to work at the age of sixteen in the photo lab of Life’s London bureau, and rose to become one of the twentieth century’s greatest photojournalists.

David Halberstam, Burrows’s close friend and comrade in Vietnam, is the author of many books, most recently War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
by David Halberstam, 2002


Larry Burrows first went to Vietnam in 1962, when the war was still very small, and for the Americans at least (if not for the Vietnamese, who had been fighting in some form or another since 1946), still very young. He was thirty-six when he first arrived, just entering his professional prime, and it was the assignment he had always wanted. He had been too young for World War II. He was twenty-four in 1950 when the Korean conflict broke out, and he had tried desperately to go, but had been judged too young and too junior in Life’s pecking order. Vietnam, therefore, was going to be his war. He got there early and staked it out from the beginning, telling his wife, Vicky, that he was going to stay to the end and cover it until there was peace. He was hardly green at the time—he had been photographing as a professional for Life for more than a decade, he had covered violence in the Middle East and the chaotic tribal fighting in the Congo—but this story was going to be his own and he was going to see it through.

Because of that vow, along with his talent, his courage, and his particular feel for the Vietnamese people, he became the signature photographer of that war, a man whose journalism, in the opinion of his colleagues and editors, reached the level of art. He would stay in Vietnam for nine years. More than any other photographer and print journalist, his work captured the different faces of the war; for those of us who were there, opening this book brings the shock of recognition of scenes, some of which took place nearly forty years ago and are now almost forgotten. On one occasion, around 1969, after some seven years there, he had come back to New York and was visiting with his Life colleagues. Someone asked him how the war was going. “Well, you American chaps have quite a problem there. Thank God it isn’t my war.” “Larry,” said Ralph Graves, who was one of his editors, “if it isn’t your war, whose is it?”

Vietnam at the moment of his arrival was not yet that big a story, though it was soon to be the most important story in the world and to stay that way for nearly a decade. The Americans were not yet in a combat role and were still serving as advisers to the South Vietnamese Army, or ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam), as it was known. Larry Burrows was pulled to it from the start; he understood that this struggle had only begun, and that it was going to be, whatever the outcome, a bigger war and a much bigger story than anyone back in New York realized. I think he understood the unusually bitter quality of it because it was a civil war; it is in the nature of civil wars to be especially cruel and ugly. You can see the evidence of that in some of his very early photos of Vietnamese tormenting Vietnamese. He also knew the one great truth that the early generation of journalists and photographers who went there understood: that given the particular nature of this war—small units fighting all over the country—it was going to be, if you figured out how to go and look for it, amazingly accessible for a photographer.

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