September 18, 2013

Have You Ever Seen the Uncropped Version of the "Napalm Girl?"

I imagine that many of you, good students of photojournalism, are familiar with the uncropped version of Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl.” In Googling it, I can see it gets mentioned from time to time. Still, I’d never seen it before this week. (It’s also a curious image to discover with all the thematically disparate photos of the Syrian crisis circuiting now.)

I have to think this is one of the most significant crops of all time. With the right half of the photo suddenly claiming more storytelling weight, it’s stunning how much it competes, diluting that dramatic scene burned into all of our heads. Studying the “new” cluster of figures and the body language of the soldiers at the edge and across the road, the guys look like it’s Miller time. Even more incredible, however, is the specter of the soldier attending to his camera. Given that he’s almost parallel to the burning body of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the message is that he’s got some time right now, that there’s nothing going on right that moment that’s worth capturing, or even deserving of his notice. …Just wow.

So my question is: was this photo cropped entirely for effect? for simplicity sake? or, because the nonchalance of the soldiers, in juxtaposition with the scorching of the children, would — from a compassion standpoint — have been like a second napalm hit?

Photo: Nick Ut / AP via

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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