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|| News Item: Posted 2005-06-15

Review: 'Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam'
What Photographers Should Be Reading

By Jim McNay, Brooks Institute of Photography

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This is an important addition to the books documenting Vietnam, especially for photographers unfamiliar with the vast numbers of excellent photographs taken during this conflict. For readers who see unfamiliar names among the photographers and writers, this book is a must. It is time to know, or for some it is time to revisit, the work of these courageous journalists

This very special volume pairs outstanding photographers and writers revisiting the subject of Vietnam. Each short chapter teams one writer with one photographer. A photograph introduces each section and appears with a writer's reflections. Several more pages of photographs by the chapter's photographer follow.

Television journalist Jack Smith's writing is matched with the photographs of Henri Huet. Smith gives us a hint of what it was like to be in the battle zone. "In the course of thirty hours I was wounded twice and thought myself dead. My company suffered 93 percent casualties. I watched all the friends I had in the world die."

A two-page spread of Huet's pictures shows soldiers in the rain. While they are not the most combat-intense pictures in the book, they may be the most visceral. We see a shot of a patrol fording a river in a driving rainstorm. A picture of a soldier belly down in a rice paddy follows as he tries to keep his weapon out of the shallow water. The two pictures give the reader an excellent sense of what the everyday experience in the field often was like.

Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam, by Catherine Leroy. Published in 2005 by Random House, 192 pages, hardcover

The great names of Vietnam are here: Don McCullin, Tim Page, Larry Burrows, David Halberstam, David Hume Kennerly, Neil Sheehan, David Burnett. One of the beauties of a brief look at so many people's work is that it reminds us to go look at the longer version. LIFE magazine photographer Dick Swanson thankfully is included here. The presence of Tim Page is a reminder to go read his autobiography, "Page After Page." The article by Neil Sheehan is an invitation to read his long-delayed but ultimately Pulitzer winning, "Bright Shining Lie."

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This book will also reawaken knowledge of and interest in Catherine Leroy who has too long been off the photography stage. Her accomplishments alone-a combat jump with an Airborne unit, a wounding in the DMZ, capture by the North Vietnamese army-should insure she is more widely remembered than she is.

Leroy did great work for LIFE magazine in Vietnam. She went on to cover Somalia, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. For her coverage of the civil war in Lebanon she was honored with the Robert Capa Award for that work. This volume should help bring her to the attention to a whole new generation of photographers.

Whether photographers use this book to introduce themselves to some of the fine coverage of this war or as a reminder of the photographers and writers of this era, it is a fine addition to this genre.

Photographers, particularly those in school or seeking to break into the photojournalism, are welcome to send ideas for future columns to Jim McNay at

Questions about getting started in photojournalism that might be answered in future columns are also welcome.

Related Links:
Book: Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam
Jim McNay's Member Page

Related Email Addresses: 
Jim McNay:

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