February 23, 2019

Vietnam to South Lawn, Vatican to Award Season: Our Social Week

New York Times Magazine, February 19, 2019. The True Story Behind an Iconic Vietnam War Photo Was Nearly Erased — Until Now, by Michael Shaw

Our feeds this week were dialed in to the publication and reception of RTP founder Michael Shaw’s article in The New York Times Magazine. Michael spent 10 months researching the story, which follows the curious history of an iconic Vietnam War photograph and its elusive subject to arrive at some powerful conclusions about memory, journalism, and America’s identity. It’s not to be missed, and neither are the fascinating archival materials and forensic analyses that didn’t make it into the final piece. Luckily we’ve been sharing those via Twitter and Instagram since the article dropped on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, back with the spectacle that is American politics, our visual week in review is a typically unpredictable mix of presidential power, socialism, and… the Pope? Yes, Francis’s clerical sex abuse summit is a challenge to the Church and photo editors alike, and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for creative ways of visualizing what amounts to a behind closed doors news event.

Lastly, February is basically Oscars season for news photography, and this week the industry’s most respected authorities, POY and World Press Photo, each announced the finalists for their yearly contests. You can believe we’ll have more to say about the results—from keen to controversial—as they are announced in the weeks to come.

-Rian Dundon


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I wrote a deeply researched article that was published this week in the New York Times Magazine “At War” section. It was titled “The True Story Behind an Iconic Vietnam War Photo Was Nearly Erased — Until Now (See link in our bio.) It tells the story of an iconic Vietnam War photo that was published in LIFE Magazine in 1968. Despite the attention it earned in a prominent book by Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, and in a major exhibition at the Newseum last year on the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, the soldier feted for having survived in John Olson’s dramatic photo was misidentified. As part of the research, I was able to analyze a set of previously unpublished pictures by the esteemed war photographer, Don McCullin, to set the record straight. As I detail in the article, the misidentification had far reaching implications for the soldiers family, the well being of the Marines who were eye witnesses, for the practice of journalism, and also for the way America memorializes, dramatizes, and deals with success and failure. There were fascinating and important photos and artifacts that were not included in the story, so I’m posting some of them here. Above are the original @People Magazine articles. (-Michael Shaw) @nytimes @cjchivers #nytimesatwar #nytimesmagazine #vietnamwar #tet #hue1968 #donmccullin #johnolson #newseum #vietnam #photojournalism 1) People Mag’s public call was a crucial artifact in the debate over the iconic Vietnam war photo. This was the appeal published April 1, 1985. 2) We found them! Four weeks later, April 29, 1985, People Mag offered ID’s of all Marines on the tank, except the lifeless one. The info was culled from 100+ calls and follow up interviews. 3) John Olson, who took the iconic Vietnam photo, also shot a portrait of Dennis Ommert for the 1985 People article, posing with original LIFE picture. Olson went on to dispute IDs of gun squad soldiers on back of tank. People named Ommert as 2nd from the end. 4) 8 week’s later, People publishes medic’s letter that should have settled the question of stricken soldier’s identity and date of death. Tragically, it was largely missed or ignored. 5) James Blaine, a soul mislaid.

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Rian Dundon
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