Cropping For Effect • Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #96

Cropping For Effect • Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #96 For the ins &outs, head over to Patti’s pilotfishblog.

Photography helps people see

Berenice Abbott

Cropping That Helps People See More

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, and this was a long time ago, is that there is a difference between a pretty picture and a good photo. And that difference is largely determined by how close you get to your subject; deliberately avoiding the ‘noise’ that otherwise distracts from the photo’s message. Thus cropping can help people see.

Cropping For Effect: The Napalm Girl

1973 Pulitzer Prize • The Napalm Girl
1973 Pulitzer Prize • The Napalm Girl

We all recognise (I hope) this photo by Nick Ut of the 9 year old Kim Phuc Phan Thi – a.k.a. the Napalm Girl – that won him the Pulitzer Prize. The scene is one of sheer horror.

The Original

Nick Ut's Uncropped Version Napalm Girl
Nick Ut’s Uncropped Version Napalm Girl

The uncropped image shows the otherwise unknown third of the photograph. It reveals on the right of the image a man absent-mindedly adjusting his camera, completely unaware of the chaotic events unfurling around him. His inclusion certainly paints a different picture than the cropped version which previously excluded him.

As Michael Shaw muses on his website Reading the Pictures: 

I have to think this is one of the most significant crops of all time. With the right half of the photo suddenly claiming more storytelling weight, it’s stunning how much it competes, diluting that dramatic scene burned into all of our heads. Studying the “new” cluster of figures and the body language of the soldiers at the edge and across the road, the guys look like it’s Miller time. Even more incredible, however, is the specter of the soldier attending to his camera. Given that he’s almost parallel to the burning body of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the message is that he’s got some time right now, that there’s nothing going on right that moment that’s worth capturing, or even deserving of his notice. …Just wow.

So my question is: was this photo cropped entirely for effect? for simplicity sake? or, because the nonchalance of the soldiers, in juxtaposition with the scorching of the children, would — from a compassion standpoint — have been like a second napalm hit?

Now, before I rub someone the wrong way, I think the cropped version is by far the most powerful of the two. In a way, the original doesn’t come close to the cropped one. So I think Ut’s crop was justified. To come back to Abbott’s quote, it helped make me see the horrors of war.

Before you go, there is more…

This is not the only controversy surrounding his photo. According to Wikipedia: Audio tapes of President Richard Nixon, in conversation with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman in 1972, reveal that Nixon mused, “I’m wondering if that was fixed”, after seeing the photograph. 

And far more recently, back in 2016, Facebook removed this photo from a post since it contained nudity. I kid you not, just head over here.

And currently, there’s discussion this photo should be removed fromWikipedia: ‘This is a copywritten image owned by the Associate Press, it is not Public Domain‘.

For more of my entrees in Lens-Artists Photo Challenge, click here.


14 thoughts on “Cropping For Effect • Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #96

  1. What an interesting take on the challenge Tiong – I had no idea that photo had been cropped. Re the soldier tending to his camera – my take would be that he DID view this as something important and was fixing the camera to take a photo of it. As for public domain vs AP, there is some law about something becoming public domain after a certain amount of use I think. Kind of like Kleenex losing the right to its name because it became interchangeable with tissues. Anyway, good post, very thought provoking

    1. Thank you, Tina! As to your first point, that was my take on it as well. As to the rights issue, it’ll be interesting to see if Wikipedia will be forced to ‘take the picture down’. I guess if they are, I’ll have to remove this post as well…NOT! 😎

  2. This is a wonderful post, Tiong. Fabulous. I had no idea the shot was cropped. Seeing the “full” picture really brings home (for me) the horrors of war where survival and compassion are often in direct conflict with each other. I hope Tina’s right…that the soldier was getting ready to record that moment. You raise fascinating ethical questions about cropping and add an important dimension to the theme. Many thanks for this.

  3. Hmm. Food for thought, as they say. IMO, the cropped version emphasizes the children’s plight, but the uncropped screams volumes of the complacency in war. Moving examples either way. Lest we forget.

  4. An interesting post in so many ways, Tiong. I had no idea either that this was a cropped image. Everybody my age know this image so well – and you put the finger on it that we don’t know the whole story. There really are so many images in one image, and more than one story. Thank you for this eye opener.

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