Griffiths, Philip Jones

Welsh (1936-2008)

Photographs by Philip Jones Griffiths possess a beauty and sophistication of form, but their true power resides in their compassion and concern for humanity. Best known for his coverage of the Vietnam War, Griffiths was compelled to record cultural conflict, be it military, economic, ideological or religious. He never shied away from pain and suffering, but captured images in the hopes of drawing his viewers into the life of another person across the globe. Griffiths best work is both intimate and universal, highlighting the plights of real people, while making a compelling and articulate anti-war statement.

Though he studied to be and even worked as a pharmacist, Griffiths was, early in his career, working as a part-time newspaper photographer. He was able to go full-time by 1961 and traveled to over 40 countries in 5 years by the time he joined the Magnum Agency in 1966. Griffiths landed a plum assignment – shooting the Vietnam War – but he had a hard time selling his photos to American publications because of his focus on the suffering Vietnamese. He found it unconscionable, however, to portray the war as anything other than the horrific tragedy it was and was prepared to return home for lack of funds when he had a lucky break. Photos of Jackie Kennedy vacationing with a suitor in Cambodia garnered him enough profits to continue capturing war images and, shortly thereafter, publish Vietnam, Inc (1971), one of the finest war monographs ever produced. Griffiths had considerable success after the conflict ended, but never forgot what he had witnessed. He returned decades later to chronicle the post-war metamorphosis of the country in his book, Vietnam at Peace, and also dedicated some of his skills to a project that captured images of the devastating effects of Agent Orange. His death in 2008 was regarded as a huge loss – not only of a great artist, but also of a committed humanitarian.