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Research Point – Propaganda in an image.

Photo by Eddie Adams/Associated Press ‘Execution of a Viet Cong officer’, Saigon, Vietnam, 1968.

South Vietnam National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes suspected Viet Cong member Nguyen Van Lem, on the second day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War.

The act was stunning in its casualness. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was on the streets of Saigon on February 1, 1968, two days after the forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong set off the Tet offensive and swarmed into dozens of South Vietnamese cities. As Adams photographed the turmoil, he came upon Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, standing alongside ­Nguyen Van Lem, the captain of a terrorist squad who had just killed the family of one of Loan’s friends. Adams thought he was watching the interrogation of a bound prisoner. But as he looked through his viewfinder, Loan calmly raised his .38-caliber pistol and summarily fired a bullet through Lem’s head. After shooting the suspect, the general justified the suddenness of his actions by saying, “If you hesitate, if you didn’t do your duty, the men won’t follow you.” The Tet offensive raged into March. Yet while U.S. forces beat back the communists, press reports of the anarchy convinced Americans that the war was unwinnable. The freezing of the moment of Lem’s death symbolized for many the brutality over there, and the picture’s widespread publication helped galvanize growing sentiment in America about the futility of the fight. More important, Adams’ photo ushered in a more intimate level of war photojournalism. He won a Pulitzer Prize for this image, and as he commented three decades later about the reach of his work, “Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.”

“I’m not a great believer in the power of the moving image. A still image has greater lasting power. A still photographer has to show the whole fucking movie in one picture. On the screen, it’s over and back in the can in seconds. A still picture is going to be there forever.” — Eddie Adams

This very powerful photograph represents the decisive moment and Adams’ picture was interpreted by the majority as I believe the photographer had intended that is as an anti-war message. Using Stuart Hall’s three types of responses this photograph produced big ticks for DOMINATE and NEGOTIATED when used as an anti-war message and propaganda for the opposition to the Vietnam war in the late 1960s and early 1970’s that led to the American military pulling out of Vietnam; so ending the war.

However, there are always two sides to any story and as there are winners; so there are losers. This photograph captures a moment at the height of the Tet offensive and Nguyen Ngoc Loan had just lost people he cared about to a Vietcong death squad led by his victim (Nguyen Van Lem). Nguyen Van Lem’s unnecessary death made a photographer world famous and destroyed his killers life as Nguyen Ngoc Loan would spend the rest of his life in exile in America with this photograph to always haunt him. It also galvanised the American voters into forcing the American military into the most humiliating military defeat in their history and one that still is an open sore for many Americans to this day. This I would say is the OPPOSITIONAL point-of-view.

As a photo-journalist Eddie Adams found that he had no control over what photographs he took were published or how they were presented; so he eventually bypassed the control of the editors by publishing his own book called Vietnam Inc. (1971).

Published by shauncn512659

Hi, I am an OCA student studying for an Art degree in Photography , my student number is 512659. My e-mail is:

One thought on “Research Point – Propaganda in an image.

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