The girl in the picture - July 2015
On 8 June 1972, war photographer Nick Út saw a naked girl running towards him. It turned out to be the 9 year old Kim Phúc, fleeing from a napalm bombing during the Vietnam war. Nick won a Pulitzer Prize with the famous photograph he took of her.
David Stephens and his colleagues brought Nick and Kim together at the official opening of his new Leica Store in Manchester. They both talked about their personal experience of that particular moment in time, frozen on black & white film by pressing a shutter button. (more)
Nick talked about how he noticed this little girl appearing from the dark smoke clouds in the background, and started taking photographs of her. It wasn’t until the children saw the soldiers he was with that they started screaming and crying. They were too shocked up to that moment. It wasn’t until she was closer that he understood she had taken her clothes of because they were on fire.
He decided she needed instant help and stopped taking photographs. He pored water over her burnt skin, however she rather wanted to drink it, as she felt so warm. Nick took the children to the hospital before getting his film developed.
Kim has been through a long physical and emotional journey, with 17 surgical procedures to recover. I can’t imagine anyone would ever fully mentally recover from an experience like that though. At times she seems relaxed and she smiles, however, most of the time she looks at the ground or up in the air. Nick had moments with a particular stare in his eyes I recognise from my grand father when he talked about WWII.
Kim explains that she hated the photograph for a very long time. The horrific event, being naked, burnt and feeling exposed. When she was 19 years old, the Vietnamese communist government took her out of university and used her and the photograph as a propaganda symbol. She wasn’t free. In 1986 she was allowed to continue her study in Cuba, where she met her husband. On a fuel stop during their honeymoon they left the airplane and asked for political asylum in Canada, which was granted.
In 1997 she decided to finally embrace the photograph and use it to change the world. She set up Kim Phúc Foundation, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war.
It’s been quite a surreal experience, meeting Nick and Kim in real life. Keep in mind that the crowd there were mainly Leica shooters and all were clicking away throughout the talk. When she answered a question about what happened to the other children in the photograph, she explained that they are her brothers and sister. They all survived because of 'Uncle' Nick, although her brother passed away two years ago. And only then the clicking stopped…