Philip Jones Griffiths Dies In LondonBy Donald R. Winslow
LONDON (March 19, 2008) – Magnum Photos photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths, 72, has died at home in London after a battle with cancer, the agency confirmed today.
"Philip enriched all our lives with his courage, his empathy, his passion, his wit and his wisdom; and for many he gave to photojournalism its moral soul," Magnum Photos president Stuart Franklin said today. "He died as he wanted so passionately that we should live - in peace."
The Welsh photographer's seminal work was crucial in challenging America's attitudes about the war in Vietnam. His photographs, compiled later in the books Vietnam Inc. and Vietnam At Peace, were the result of his investigation of the war, the people, and the country.
"The things we were being told [about the war] didn't make any sense," Griffiths told an interviewer in 2002. "So I traveled the length of the country for my own personal selfish reasons, to put together the jigsaw puzzle, and to produce a historical document. I wasn't the person working for the news agencies to make sure there was a picture on the front of The New York Times every morning. I worked differently."
"I had read in a British photo magazine about him; he was described as 'a loquacious Welshman,'" photojournalist David Burnett wrote about his friend Griffiths today on his Web Blog. "And when I arrived in Vietnam in 1970, he was one of the first persons I met. Happily for me, he remained loquacious even after we became friends. He was one of those folks who turn into your mentor without being asked. I suppose he found my Utah sense of humor not all that far removed from his own, and we got along well from the first time we had beef and ginger at that lousy Tu Do street Chinese cafe."
"His was the photographic equivalent of the turning point [in Vietnam] among the press," filmmaker and photojournalist Bruce Young said today from Lexington, VA. "Photographers like David Douglas Duncan and Dickey Chapelle had come into the Vietnam experience from a World War II and Korea context – rough, but supportive of the troops. Griffiths, to the point where he became a fictionalized icon in Philip Caputo's novel of wartime photojournalism, 'DelCorso's Gallery', set out on a different path both in content – looking with unblinking candor at wounded civilians and dead bodies – and style – with a more rough, snapshot-like technique in contrast to the lyrical views of, say, Duncan."
"It's ironic that he died on the anniversary of the war [in Iraq] that he so deplored," Sue Brisk at Magnum Photos said.
"The photographer's eye was always drawn by human folly, but ... he always believed in human dignity and in people's ability to better themselves," Franklin said a statement issued in Paris today.
In an interview with BBC news in 2005, Griffiths said: "The only thing we photographers really want more than life, more than sex, more than anything, is to be invisible."
"Journalism is about obliterating distances, bringing far away things closer home and impressing it on people's senses," Griffiths said in an interview in the British newspaper The Independent.
"Philip saw beyond the military dimension of war," John G. Morris wrote tonight from Paris. "He sought to cover it in terms of cause (his book 'Vietnam Inc.') and effect (his book 'Agent Orange'). A man of courage and conviction, he exemplified photojournalism at its best." Morris was the first editorial director of Magnum Photos, hired in the early days by his friends Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
"Philip Jones Griffiths was one of the giants of our business. His photographs of Vietnam in particular will have an everlasting impact on all who see them," David Hume Kennerly said today.
"I salute a fallen comrade whose life was about photography and picturing the truth." As a young photographer working for United Press International, Kennerly won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his photographs of the Vietnam war.
Griffiths' career also included documenting conflicts in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Iraq. He spent ten years in science after studying chemistry at Liverpool University before his photography career. While working as a chemist Griffiths kept up his hobby of photography, which was his true interest, but magazine and newspaper photo jobs were hard to find at the time. Later he said that the ten years in chemistry were "wasted." He would have rather been working as a photographer and his heart was not in it. "Once you've had to count 1,000 tablets by hand you know it's time to leave," he told the BBC.
In 1961, Griffiths entered photojournalism as a freelancer and covered the Algerian war in 1962 for the Observer newspaper in London. In 1973 he covered the Yom Kippur War and then worked in Cambodia from 1973 through 1975. In 1977 he covered Asia from his base in Thailand. In 1980 he moved to New York and for five years there he was Magnum Photos' president, from 1989 through 1985.
The photographer was born in 1936 in Rhuddlan, Wales. Griffiths left Wales when he was 16 and lived in the States for many years. As a child he took photographs with a Kodak Brownie camera, and he's often said that his upbringing as a Welshman from Rhuddlan has been "the basis for everything" that he's done.
His last exhibit, "Fifty Years on the Frontline," was in 2006 at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, FL.
Magnum's Frankin says Griffiths is survived by his loving family: Fenella Ferrato, Katherine Holden, Donna Ferrato, and Heather Holden. There has been no announcement of services.
On the Magnum Photos Web site is a blog about Griffiths written by Franklin. At the bottom is a space where readers can leave comments.