Eddie Adams (photographer)

Eddie Adams

Eddie Adams (1969)
Born Edward Thomas Adams
(1933-06-12)June 12, 1933
New Kensington, Pennsylvania, USA[1]
Died September 18, 2004(2004-09-18) (aged 71)
New York City, New York
Occupation Photojournalism
Notable credit(s) Pulitzer Prize–winner
Spouse(s) Alyssa Adams
Children August Adams

Eddie Adams (June 12, 1933 – September 18, 2004) was an American photographer and photojournalist noted for portraits of celebrities and politicians and for coverage of 13 wars. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969.[2][3][4][5]

Combat photographer

Adams joined the United States Marine Corps in 1951 during the Korean War as a combat photographer. One of his assignments was to photograph the entire Demilitarized Zone from end to end immediately following the war. This took him over a month to complete.

Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph

Adams' photograph of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Nguyễn Văn Lém on February 1, 1968
External audio
You may watch an interview clip with Eddie Adams on YouTube.

It was while covering the Vietnam War for the Associated Press that he took his best-known photograph—the picture of police chief General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner, Nguyễn Văn Lém, on a Saigon street, on February 1, 1968, during the opening stages of the Tet Offensive.

Adams won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography and a World Press Photo award for the photograph (captioned 'General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon'), but would later lament its notoriety.[6] Writer and critic David D. Perlmutter points out that 'no film footage did as much damage as AP photographer Eddie Adams's 35mm shot taken on a Saigon street ... When people talk or write about [the Tet Offensive] at least a sentence is devoted (often with an illustration) to the Eddie Adams picture'.[7]

Anticipating the impact of Adams's photograph, an attempt at balance was sought by editors in the New York Times. In his memoirs,[8] John G. Morris recalls that assistant managing editor Theodore M. Bernstein "determined that the brutality manifested by America's ally be put into perspective, agreed to run the Adams picture large, but offset with a picture of a child slain by Vietcong, which conveniently came through from AP at about the same time". Nonetheless, it is Adams's photograph that is remembered while the other far less dramatic image was overlooked and soon forgotten.

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag is disturbed by what she sees as the staged nature of the photograph. She writes that 'he would not have carried out the summary execution there had [the press] not been available to witness it'.[9] However, Donald Winslow of the New York Times quotes Adams as having described the image as a 'reflex picture' and 'wasn't certain of what he'd photographed until the film was developed'. Furthermore, Winslow notes that Adams 'wanted me to understand that “Saigon Execution” was not his most important picture and that he did not want his obituary to begin, “Eddie Adams, the photographer best known for his iconic Vietnam photograph ‘Saigon Execution’'.[6]

On Nguyen Ngoc Loan and his famous photograph, Adams wrote in Time in 1998:

Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and GENERAL NGUYEN NGOC LOAN. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. ... What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?'.... This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn't taken the picture, someone else would have, but I've felt bad for him and his family for a long time. ... I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, "I'm sorry. There are tears in my eyes.[10]

Adams later apologized in person to General Nguyen and his family for the irreparable damage it did to the General's honor while he was alive. When Nguyen died, Adams praised him as a "hero" of a "just cause".[11] On the television show "War Stories with Oliver North" Adams called Gen. Nguyen "a goddamned hero!"

He once said, "I would have rather been known more for the series of photographs I shot of 48 Vietnamese refugees who managed to sail to Thailand in a 30-foot boat, only to be towed back to the open seas by Thai marines." The photographs, and accompanying reports, helped persuade then President Jimmy Carter to grant the nearly 200,000 Vietnamese boat people asylum.[12] He won the Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club in 1977 for this series of photographs in his photo essay, "The Boat of No Smiles" (Published by AP).[13] Adams remarked, "It did some good and nobody got hurt."[12][14]


Along with the Pulitzer, Adams received over 500 awards, including the George Polk Award for News Photography in 1968, 1977 and 1978, and numerous awards from World Press Photo, NPPA, Sigma Delta Chi, Overseas Press Club, and many other organizations.

Adams died in New York City from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Adams's legacy is continued through Barnstorm: The Eddie Adams Workshop, the photography workshop he started in 1988.

He is the subject of a 2009 documentary feature, An Unlikely Weapon, directed by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland.[15]

Eddie Adams Photographic Archive

The photographic archive of Eddie Adams has been donated by his widow, Alyssa Adams, to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin. The archive documents Adams's career and includes "Saigon Execution," his Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. Measuring 200 linear feet in size, the Eddie Adams Photographic Archive includes slides, negatives, prints, audio and video materials, news stories, diaries, notes and tear sheets. In addition to substantive coverage of the Vietnam War, the collection includes his in-depth features on poverty in America, the homeless, Mother Teresa, Brazil, alternative society, anti-war demonstrations, and riots, as well as his intimate portraits of such high-profile figures as Ronald Reagan, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Clint Eastwood, Bette Davis, Bill Cosby, and Jerry Lewis.

Auction records

On October 22, 2009 Swann Galleries auctioned a special print of Adams's most well-known image, Saigon (General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner Nguyen Van Lém). The oversize silver print image—printed in the 1980s—had been a gift to Adams’s son and came with letter of provenance. The back of the photograph was signed and had Adams's notation, "Saigon, 1968." It sold for $43,200.


  1. Lucas, Dean. "Famous Pictures Magazine - Vietnam Execution". Retrieved 2013-05-01.
  2. Banwell, Rory (19 September 2013). ""Saigon Execution": The Consequences of Eddie Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning Photograph".
  3. Winslow, Donald R. (19 April 2011). "The Pulitzer Eddie Adams Didn't Want". The New York Times.
  4. Grundberg, Andy (9 September 2004). "Eddie Adams, Journalist Who Showed Violence of Vietnam, Dies at 71". The New York Times.
  5. Adler, Margot (24 March 2009). "The Vietnam War, Through Eddie Adams' Lens". NPR.
  6. 1 2 Winslow, Donald R. (April 19, 2011). "The Pulitzer Eddie Adams Didn't Want". The New York Times.
  7. 1999: 205-207
  8. Get the Picture; A Personal History of Photojournalism, p. 241
  9. Sontag, 2002: 53
  10. Eddie Adams (1998-07-27). "Eulogy: GENERAL NGUYEN NGOC LOAN". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on 2001-06-24. Retrieved 2013-05-11.
  11. Image Canon - Historic Images
  12. 1 2 Vô Danh tổng hợp (2011-11-30). "Nguyễn Ngọc Loan và Eddie Adams". Thông Luận. Retrieved 2013-05-11.
  13. The OPC's Robert Capa Gold Medal
  14. Eddie Adams. "Interview for PBS". Retrieved 2007-06-01.
  15. An Unlikely Weapon (official site)
  • Brady, James (2005). The Scariest Place in the World - A Marine Returns to North Korea. New York City: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 0-312-33243-2. 
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