Friday, May 11, 2012
Horst Faas - War photographer
Horst Faas, a prizewinning combat photographer who carved out new standards for covering war with a camera and became one of the world’s distinguished photojournalists in nearly a half-century with The Associated Press, died on Thursday. He was 79.
His daughter, Clare Faas, confirmed his death. A native of Germany who joined The Associated Press there in 1956, Mr. Faas photographed wars, revolutions, the Olympic Games and events in between. But he was best known for covering Vietnam, where he was severely wounded in 1967 and won four major photo awards including the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes.
As chief of The A.P.’s photo operations in Saigon for a decade beginning in 1962, Mr. Faas covered the fighting while recruiting and training new talent from among foreign and Vietnamese freelancers. The result was “Horst’s army” of young photographers, who fanned out with supplied cameras and film supplied by Mr. Faas and stern orders to “come back with good pictures Mr. Faas and his editors chose the best and put together a steady flow of telling photos: South Vietnam’s soldiers fighting and its civilians struggling to survive amid the maelstrom.
Among his top protégés was Huynh Thanh My, an actor turned photographer who in 1965 became one of four A.P. staff photographers and one of two South Vietnamese among more than 70 journalists killed in the 15-year war. Mr. My’s younger brother, Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut, followed his brother at The A.P. and under Mr. Faas’s tutelage won one of the news agency’s six Vietnam War Pulitzer Prizes, for his iconic 1972 picture of a badly burned Vietnamese girl fleeing an aerial napalm attack.
Mr. Faas was a brilliant planner, able to score journalistic scoops by anticipating “not just what happens next, but what happens after that,” as one colleague put it. His reputation as a demanding taskmaster and perfectionist belied a humanistic streak he was loath to admit, while helping less fortunate former colleagues and other causes. He was widely read on Asian history and culture, and assembled an impressive collection of Chinese Ming porcelain, bronzes and other treasures.
In later years, Mr. Faas turned his training skills into a series of international photojournalism symposiums. Mr. Faas also helped to organize reunions of the wartime Saigon news corps, and was attending a combination of those events when he became ill in Hanoi on May 4, 2005.
He was hospitalized first in Bangkok, then in Germany, where doctors traced his permanent paralysis from the waist down to a spinal hemorrhage caused by blood-thinning heart medication. Although he required a wheelchair, he continued to travel to photo exhibits and other professional events, mainly in Europe, and collaborated in the publishing of two books in French — about his own career and that of Henri Huet, a former A.P. colleague in Vietnam.
Mr. Faas also made two trips to the United States, in 2006 and in 2008. His health deteriorated in late 2008. Hospitalized in February for treatment of skin problems, he also underwent gastric surgery. Mr. Faas’s Vietnam coverage earned him the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Award and his first Pulitzer in 1965. Receiving the honors in New York, he said his mission was to “record the suffering, the emotions and the sacrifices of both Americans and Vietnamese” in Vietnam.
Burly but agile, Mr. Faas spent much time in the field, and on Dec. 6, 1967, he was wounded in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade at Bu Dop, in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. He might have bled to death had not a young U.S. Army medic managed to stem the flow.
Meeting Mr. Faas two decades later, the medic recalled the encounter, saying, “You were so gray, I thought you were a goner.” On crutches and confined to the bureau, Mr. Faas was unable to cover the February 1968 Tet Offensive, but directed A.P. photo operations like a general deploying troops against the enemy.
The A.P. photographer Eddie Adams came back with the war’s most famous picture, of Vietnam’s national police chief executing a captured Vietcong suspect on a Saigon street. “Generally, we had to go pretty far into the field, but this was a situation in which the war came to us,” Mr. Faas recalled. “It was right next door.”
He often teamed with the Pulitzer Prize-winning A.P. reporter Peter Arnett to produce powerful and exclusive reports like the 1969 story of Co. A, an Army unit that balked at orders to move against the enemy. Mr. Faas witnessed the “combat refusal” episode during an effort to reach the site of a helicopter crash that had killed seven U.S. soldiers and the A.P. staff photographer Oliver E. Noonan.
Born in Berlin on April 28, 1933, Mr. Faas grew up during World War II, and like all young German men, was required to join the Hitler Youth organization. Years later, he wrote that Allied air raids and “the fascinating spectacle of antiaircraft action in the sky” were part of daily life, as was being required “to stand at attention in school and listen to an announcement that the father or older brother of a classmate had died for führer and Fatherland.”
As the war ended in 1945, the family fled north to avoid the Russian advance on Berlin, and two years later, escaped to Munich in West Germany. In 1960, at age 27 and having been an A.P. photographer for four years, Mr. Faas began his front-line reporting career in Congo, then Algeria.
In 1962, he was reassigned to the growing war in Vietnam where he landed on the same day as Mr. Arnett. Mr. Faas for a time shared a Saigon villa with the late New York Times correspondent David Halberstam, who said of Mr. Faas, “I don’t think anyone stayed longer, took more risks or showed greater devotion to his work and his colleagues. I think of him as nothing less than a genius.”
Mr. Faas left Saigon in 1970 to become the A.P.’s roving photographer for Asia, based in Singapore, ranging widely on assignments. He teamed with Mr. Arnett, a New Zealander, on a cross-country reporting tour of the United States as seen by foreigners, and covered the 1972 Munich Olympics where he photographed a ski-masked Palestinian terrorist on the balcony of the building where Israeli athletes were being held hostage, hours before they were murdered at the airport.
The same year, he won a second Pulitzer Prize, along with Michel Laurent of the French Gamma photo agency, for gripping pictures of torture and executions in Bangladesh.
Mr. Laurent, who had once worked for The A.P. under Mr. Faas in Saigon, later became the last journalist killed in the Vietnam War, two days before the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. In 1976, Mr. Faas relocated to London as The A.P.’s senior photo editor for Europe, until he retired from the news agency in 2004. He was an editor of “Requiem,” a 1997 book about photographers killed on both sides of the Vietnam War, and was an author of “Lost Over Laos,” a 2003 book about four photographers shot down in Laos in 1971 and the search for the crash site 27 years later. http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/a-parting-glance-horst-faas/