Paris exhibit honors AP Vietnam War photographer
PARIS (AP) – A U.S. Army medic peers through dirty bandages on his own head while caring for a wounded comrade. A helicopter winches up the lifeless body of an American soldier, silhouetted against a bare white sky.
Such images from the Vietnam War feature in a new museum exhibit in Paris focusing on Associated Press photographer Henri Huet, who was killed 40 years ago when a helicopter he was riding in was shot down over Laos.
Co-curated by the AP, “Henri Huet: Vietnam” focuses on about 70 photos that he took during the war. The show starts Tuesday and runs through April 3 at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris’ Marais district.
Huet, who was half-French and half-Vietnamese, and three foreign photographers died Feb. 10, 1971 when the South Vietnamese helicopter they were on was shot down while they covered a cross-border invasion.
Huet, Larry Burrows of Life magazine, Kent Potter of United Press International, and Keizaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek were on board with U.S.-backed Vietnamese forces, killed in the flash of an anti-aircraft gun. Huet was 43.
The exhibit aims to bring to light the impact of Huet on the public’s understanding of Vietnam and as a reference for today’s generation of photojournalists – in terms of style, shot selection and emotional impact.
Huet captured the pain, fatigue, frustration, grittiness and a gamut of emotions with his black and white photos that made newspaper and magazine covers worldwide throughout the conflict.
He had “a sense of artistry, because he was a painter, he showed his sense of feeling for the Vietnamese,” said former AP reporter Richard Pyle, who served as Saigon bureau chief during the war.
“People in Vietnam won prizes, and won accolades, for their work as photographers and the irony of this was that Henri – who was probably the finest combat photographer of his time, maybe in any war … never got the attention nor the credit that he deserved,” Pyle said.
In days long before satellite transmission, the Internet, digital photos and laptop computers, Huet would trek off for days with the U.S. military, and return with a trove of photos shipped to AP headquarters in New York.
Sometimes, a single picture captured the essence of the war.
“You had one Henri Huet picture on the front page of the New York Times, and that was it – that was the battle of Vietnam,” said Horst Faas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer who worked with Huet in Vietnam.
“There was mud in there, there was frustration in there, a bit of loneliness in there – all these things that a soldier went through in the circumstances, or a civilian, or anyone else,” Faas said.
Faas, Pyle and other colleagues have come to Paris for the exhibit, and remembered Huet’s compassion, respect for both Vietnamese civilians and U.S. soldiers, and tendency to stay to himself once the work day was done.
“If I had to pick the three finest people that I ever met in my life … Henri Huet would be one of those three, maybe even No. 1,” said Pyle at a news conference Monday.
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