Adams, Eddie

American (1933-2004)

Eddie Adams knew he wanted to be a photographer from the time he served on his high school’s newspaper staff. So it was only natural that – when he enlisted as a US Marine during the Korean War – he went as a combat photographer, taking shots of the demilitarized zones for archival purposes. Upon returning to the US, Adams went to work for the Associated Press and, during his career, covered 13 different wars around the globe, including the Vietnam conflict. On February 1, 1968, Adams took what came to be his most famous – and lamentable – shot: General Nguyen Ngoc Loan brutally executing a Vietcong prisoner in the streets. Though Adams won the 1969 Pulitzer for the picture, he had many regrets afterwards. General Loan was vilified throughout the world and led a difficult life, as many viewers were unaware of the picture’s context. Loan’s gun had stopped the Vietcong prisoner, who had already killed 2 or 3 American soldiers. Adams referred to the shot for the rest of his life when discussing the elusive qualities of heroism and photographic truth; he would have much rather been remembered for his shots of Vietnamese refugees heroically traveling to Thailand, pictures which convinced then-President Carter to grant asylum to 200,000 people.  

Following this experience, Adams turned his lens toward celebrities and politicians, taking portraits that graced fashion magazines, advertising campaigns and Parade Weekly. After so many years of seeing pain and hurt, he needed to take pictures that brought him hope and joy. He donated much of his time to charities, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, taking pictures for their fundraisers, telethons and awareness brochures. When he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2004, a large portion of his estate went to support the work of these groups.