Because He Was an Artist: Larry Burrows, Photojournalist

The camera can be seen as most impactful when it's used to document life in its rawest form. Every day, photographers grab their camera and head out to create a photograph for many reasons. It could be for a client on a commercial set. It could be a wedding photographer. It could be a landscape photographer. All these approaches hold their own sort of gravitas. However, when a camera is used to capture events that help the viewer understand our reality and our history, it could be said the camera is at its most powerful. Photojournalism holds this gravitas. 

Larry Burrows was a British photojournalist, who made a significant impact on the field of photography through his haunting and evocative photographs of the Vietnam War. His work not only captured the horrors and human toll of the conflict but also reshaped the way photojournalists approached their craft. Burrows' embedded himself with the frontline soldiers to give the viewer an up close and intimate story of the war. And his legacy still inspires photojournalists today. 

In the video from The Photographic Eye, the viewer is introduced to Larry Burrows' eight years of covering the conflict and his impact on the photography world. Additionally, the video presents some of his iconic work. Here we see one of Burrows' most impactful images, "Reaching Out," taken in 1966, that epitomizes his ability to capture the human element of war. The photograph portrays a wounded Marine, Sergeant Jeremiah Purdie, reaching out to his fellow soldiers for help during a fierce battle in the Que Son Valley. We're also given insight into his photo series titled "One Ride with Yankee Papa 13." Here, we see a journey of a U.S. Marine helicopter squadron in 1965 documented over numerous photographs that tells a graphic and passionate story. The series provides a comprehensive look at the experiences of the crew members and the Vietnamese civilians they encountered along the way.

This video gives us a small look back a Burrows' unwavering commitment to staying with a story. He was observed staying with units for extended periods of time, especially on the front lines. This offered him the ability to build relationships with the soldiers and immerse himself in the reality of war, capturing intimate moments that revealed the true nature of the conflict.

Tragically, Burrows' life was cut short on February 10, 1971, when his helicopter was shot down over Laos. Alongside him were fellow photojournalists Henri Huet, Kent Potter, and Keisaburo Shimamoto, all of whom lost their lives that day. Burrows' impact on photojournalism extends beyond his individual photographs. He broke new ground by focusing on the emotional and human aspects of the conflict, creating a more nuanced understanding of war's impact. Moreover, Burrows' photographs played a vital role in shaping public opinion and influencing policy decisions related to the Vietnam War. His work, along with dedicated work of numerous photojournalists, helped expose the nature of the conflict, contributing to the growing anti-war sentiment both in the United States and around the world.

Larry Burrows' Vietnam War photography remains a testament to the lasting power of photojournalism. When other photographer's covering the war were upset that they weren't given the same access that Burrows had, the military responded that his request was granted "not because he was a photographer, but because he was an artist."

Michael Rudzikewycz's picture

Michael is an amateur photographer currently living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A Long Islander by birth, he learned how to see with a camera along the shores of the island that he will forever call home.

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