‘When the heart gets filtered up through the camera’: Vietnam War photographers on how to cover COVID better

On February 29, Washington State health officials announced what they believed to be the first death due to the novel coronavirus in the United States. By March 31, the official national death toll stood at 3,173. It was a larger number, news outlets n

“War is 95 percent boredom and 5 percent sheer terror, from a journalist’s point of view,” says David Hume Kennerly, who won a 1972 Pulitzer Prize for his feature photography of the Vietnam War. CJR sat down with Kennerly and three other esteemed photojournalists from that conflict, Art Greenspon, Robert Hodierne, and David Burnett, to ask what lessons we can take from Vietnam to cover today’s invisible killer and the absence of public suffering.

Forgotten Images of the Vietnam War Made for the Americans Who Fought In It

These uncovered photos explore previously buried scenes of the Vietnam War, as well as the outsize role of a publication led by two tenacious women.

For more than four decades, Art Greenspon kept his recollections of photographing the Vietnam War for Overseas Weekly tucked away deep in his memory, as inaccessible as the images themselves. Then, in 2014, a treasure trove of 35 mm negatives emerged from the gloom of a Scandinavian cellar, vividly reminding Mr. Greenspon of his time working for the scrappy little alternative tabloid.

Vietnam War Photos That Made a Difference

Given the subject matter, that image, by Art Greenspon, might never have made it past the censors of World War II, which was nearly into its third year before Americans first saw photos of dead G.I.’s on a Pacific beach. Today, it is on the cover of “Vietnam: The Real War,” a new history of America’s military and political misadventure in Southeast Asia, built around nearly 300 photo images from the archives of The Associated Press.

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Like the soldiers he was photographing, Art Greenspon was in his 20s when he traveled to Vietnam to document the war. After five months in-country, Greenspon went on a two-day patrol with soldiers in the A Shau valley, just inside the Laotian border. There, after an ambush and subsequent firefight, Greenspon made a photograph that David Douglas Duncan, the famous TIME-LIFE war photographer, lauded as the “best picture yet of the Vietnam War.”