Postgraduate Conference
Monday 23rd June 2014
Philip Jones Griffiths – photographer,
photojournalist, author, raconteur, indefatigable
humanist, scourge of imperialism, proud
1936 - 2008
by: George Petry
Philip Jones Griffiths
in Vietnam, circa 1966
“One country and one war gave Philip
the chance to say something very
profound, very important to him, about
life as he sees and understands it. Turn
to his images, the last of their kind that
we shall see, made in unrepeatable
circumstances, by a rare talent – by my
fearless friend Philip, a most original
photographer with a very Welsh kind of
Murray Sayle, (investigative journalist) from Dark Odyssey
Scope of the Research Project
Examination of the unique, untouched Griffiths archive out
of which was born Vietnam Inc. – the 1971 book ( 266 images
over 223 pages)
An archive is…
Traces of the past, collected either intentionally or hapazardly as
‘evidence’. Antoinette Burton, Archive Stories
Archives are created, drawn upon and experienced by those who
use them to write history. Antoinette Burton, Archive Stories
“…shaped as much by national identity, gender, race and class, as
by professional training...” Antoinette Burton, Archive Stories
The start point, particularly for photographic documents, from
which “…documents can speak for themselves and what the
relationship is between ‘fact’ and ‘interpretation’. Ann Curthoys,
The History of Killing
One of six shelves of boxes of mainly
photographic material. National Library of Wales
The Griffiths archive, Magnum,
New York office, 2013
Scope of the Research Project
Examination of the unique, untouched Griffiths archive out
of which was born Vietnam Inc. – the 1971 book ( 266 images
over 223 pages)
Evaluation of Griffiths’ photographs capturing war suffering
One of Griffiths’s 266 images
Innocence and Anguish
Vietnam Inc. p151
Susan said…
“A photograph has only one language and is destined for all.”
Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003
“Photographs do not explain, they acknowledge.”
On Photography, 1971
“Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is
the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”
On Photography, 1971
“Are you waiting for a shell to go off so you can photograph
some corpses?”
Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003
Questions on Suffering
It is not beautiful….
Can photographing and publishing images of suffering be
justified? By whom…..for whom?
Spectacle or News?
Intrusion on privacy, or informative plea for help
Documenting and evidencing extremes in human conditions
Aesthetics or atrocities of war porn?
Fabrication, manipulation, set up?
Scope of the Research Project
Examination of the unique, untouched Griffiths archive out
of which was born Vietnam Inc. – the 1971 book ( 266 images
over 223 pages)
Evaluation of Griffiths’ photographs capturing war suffering
Evaluating the possibility of a notion of ‘Welshness’ having
a tangible, subliminal, powerfully influencing presence on
Griffiths the photographer?
What is Welshness?
JMW Turner (1775-1851) sets the scene:
“…Turner’s sombre, brooding pictures of Wales were intended
to evoke in the consciousness of British connoisseurs…..”
“Like the imaginary spaces of the Gothic Novel which so
influenced Turner, the dark spaces of his Welsh pictures
symbolise the blockages and obstacles placed in the way of the
exercise of power.”
Rod Jones, Wales the Imagined Nation
What is Welshness?
Welshness is not a stereotype
Welshness is not an ideology or ethnopsychology
Welshness is not strict ethnicity or ‘a people’
Welshness is not politics or a religion
Welshness is vital to grasp and impossible to define
“The Welsh as a people have lived by making and remaking
themselves in generation after generation, usually against the odds,
usually within a British context. In that making and remaking of
themselves, a sense of history has been central.”
Gwyn A. Williams, When was Wales?
Key Welshness characteristics
Kenneth O. Morgan in: Rebirth of a Nation: Plaid Cymru’s main
concerns were moral, intellectual and cultural:
Making of Welsh the only official language in government
administration, business and in education instruction
Nationalist ‘pacific’ nature and movement
Asserting and defining Welsh identity in literary periodicals,
Eisteddfod platforms,
Dislike/distrust of imperialism, of influence from ‘foreign’ England
Carol Trosset in: Welshness Performed:
The importance of language, history and sense of community
Christian/Methodist-based values of integrity, hard work, modesty
National Eisteddfod held accountable for maintaining many cultural
Presence of dominant England as a scapegoat of unwanted
contaminating cultural influences
Scope of the Research Project
Examination of the unique, untouched Griffiths archive out
of which was born Vietnam Inc. – the 1971 book ( 266 images
over 223 pages)
Evaluation of Griffiths’ photographs capturing war suffering
Evaluating the possibility of a notion of ‘Welshness’ having a
tangible, subliminal, powerfully influencing presence on
Griffiths the photographer?
Hopefully to bring greater knowledge, understanding and
exposure of Philip Jones Griffiths to Wales and Welsh
cultural history, as a contemporary paragon of
The Research Question
“Philip Jones Griffiths gave his life meaning through the
medium of photography.
In Vietnam, did he connect English governments historically
projecting an imperialist power over the Welsh, with the
treatment and suffering of the Vietnamese people in a brutal
war which he saw as a projection of US imperialist power?
The Hypothesis
“If it is reasonable to believe that any photographer born in any
culture will apply his or her cultural identity, with its’ attendant
histories, belief systems, values, traditions, experiences, prejudices and
myths, consciously or subconsciously, to their photography, then why
not this Welshman?
The hypothesis posits that Griffiths, raised in North Wales in the
1930s to 1950s would carry that particular area’s cultural notion of
Welshness, as a memory influencing his views on life and the
composition and choices of subject in his photographic work, through
war and the suffering of an alien country - namely Vietnam?”
So what does this mean?
What is culture?
Raymond Williams, 1988, in Keywords describes it as:
One of the two or three most complicated words in the
English language (Welsh – diwylliant)
A complex argument about relations between general human
development and a particular way of life, and between both the
works and practices of art and intelligence.
In cultural anthropology the reference to culture or a culture is
primarily to material production; while in cultural studies the
reference is primarily to signifying or symbolic systems.
So what?
Cultural interpretation resides in people in a war – natives
and visitors; and incomers bring their own. Photographers,
journalists also bring their own
The national identity/cultural background of the
photographer is an inevitable influence on:
Photographic style/preferences: place, time, subject of shoot
Welshness was Griffiths’s cultural influencing background in
Vietnam Vietnam Inc. was the result
Examine the Vietnam period archive 1966-1971 alongside
Vietnam Inc.
Extract data from key sources:
The Archive - contact sheets and other documents
Vietnam Inc. – photographs, narratives and captions
Interviews with family, colleagues, friends, others
Key data analysis tools:
Used on population of 26 representative photographs (10%) from
Vietnam Inc.
Templates critical analysis tools (Szarkowski & Tinkler)
Analytical Tools
John Szarkowski
Penny Tinkler
The Five Characteristics of a
The Five Lines of Enquiry
From: Using Photographs in Social and
Historical Research
From: The Photographer’s Eye
•The Thing itself
Identification of basic details
•The Detail
Scrutiny of the image
•The Frame
Photographs as material objects
Contextual situation
•Vantage Point
Meanings of a photograph
The Photographer
“When creating a pictorial event, the photographer selects a
particular frame of reference for the viewer: the lighting, the
camera angle, the perspective, the lines and forms, the framing,
the balance, and the overall compositional arrangement. In
short, the recorder of the pictorial event controls the manner in
which the information is presented.”
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa
Now it is your turn……
“If I like a photograph, if it disturbs me, I linger over it.
What am I doing, during the time I remain with it?
I look at it, I scrutinize it, as if I wanted to know more
about the thing or the person it represents.”
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1993
Photographs by six strongly individual international
photojournalists working in Vietnam
Consider the image; do you think there may be a cultural
sense of national identity at work in the photographer’s
style, or subject or composition?
Consider these against similar compositions by Griffiths
‘Burning Monk’
Thich Quang Duc, Saigon 1963
Malcolm Browne (American), 1964 Pulitzer prize winner
Associated Press
“Burning Home”
With compliments of the ‘Zippo Squad’
Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh), 1967
‘Zippo Squad’ soldier at work
Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh), 1967
‘Saigon Execution’
Gen Loan executes a VC officer
Eddie Adams (American), 1969 Pulitzer prize winner
Associated Press
VC guerrilla body in street
Eddie Adams (American), 5 May 1968
Innocent civilian in street - USAF bombing, Hué
Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh), 1968, [orig colour]
VC body dragged away for burial - Battle of Long Tan
Kyoichi Sawada (Japanese) - 1966 Pulitzer prize winner
Mother with children crossing river to safety during
USAF bombing run on their village in Loc Thuong
Kyoichi Sawada (Japanese)
Mother and children being ‘relocated’ from their
village, for their safety, by a GI patrol
Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh), 1968
‘The Terror of War’
Kim Phuc – ‘The Napalm Girl’
Huỳnh Công Út (Nick) Ut (Vietnamese), 1973 Pulitzer prize winner
Associated Press
‘The Terror of War’
Napalm man – name unknown
Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh), 1967
Wounded GI – ‘crucifixion’
Don McCullin (English), 1968, Battle of Hué, Sunday Times
Crucifixion, rural interpretation
Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh), 1970
Bandage; wounded GIs
Henri Huet (French), 1966, Robert Capa Gold Medal Winner from
Overseas Press Club
Associated Press
Bandage; napalm wounded civilian
Philip Jones Griffiths (Welsh), 1967
~ No award necessary ~
From a note Philip wrote, found in an archived box:
“For years afterwards Vietnam continued to make it’s nocturnal
visits to my mind. Never nightmares, mostly pleasant. This always
surprised me as Vietnam was anything but pleasant from 1966 to
1971. It was a fairground with real people for sitting ducks.
Fairgrounds are dangerous places, people are robbed, pockets are
picked, girls are raped, whole families are wiped out when the
roller coaster fails to make a bend and carrousels speed up out of
control throwing young children to oblivion. On returning home
penniless any gifts won are found to be useless/worthless. But it
was exciting! People do crazy things in fairgrounds - like waterskiing in a battle zone. (If you think that scene in ‘Apocalypse
Now’ was a product of Coppola’s imagination I photographed the
real thing in 1967 - there was even a ‘Kurtz’ present, except that he
would make the villagers kiss his boots and while their tongues
licked the dust off his boots he blew their brains out.”
Thank you
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