Monday, October 12, 2009

A Remembrance of Fallen Friends

The song was “His Eye is On the Sparrow,” sung beneath the birch and fir trees at the Eddie Adams Farm by Leah Latella. The occasion Sunday afternoon was the annual ceremony remembering six photojournalists killed in Vietnam, their names inscribed into a gray slate table, their friends and colleagues among the crowd gathered together on the grass. “These were our eyes,” said Ray Harrell, presiding over the gathering as a Native American ritual, his gray hair in long braids. “You are our eyes.”

He recalled the pictures of Vietnamese “Boat People” that Adams made in the final days of the conflict, which drew worldwide attention to the desperate refugee crisis: “He brought the boat people to America. If his eyes had not been there, they would have been lost.”

Then there was silence, and Nick Ut stepped forward and placed a sunflower on the stone table for his brother, AP photographer Huynh Thanh My. Sarah Burrows left one for her grandfather, Life magazine’s Larry Burrows. Others were placed for Henri Huet, Michael Laurent and Kent Potter. Also remembered were more recent losses: Sandy Colton, veteran of Stars and Stripes and the AP; and Workshop founder Eddie Adams, gone since 2004.

Eddie’s son, August Adams, wore his father’s iconic black fedora and stepped forward (accompanied by half-sister Susan) to place it beside the flowers. A black balloon was released into the air for Adams, a red one for Colton, followed by scores of yellow balloons in honor of the fallen photojournalists.

As ever, it was a profoundly affecting moment among the crowd of photojournalists, friends and family, and a dramatic illustration of what can be at stake in this profession. Many tears were shed around the stone. The annual ceremony had not yet been established when Getty conflict photographer John Moore was a Barnstorm student in 1990, but as a former longtime member of AP, he was moved Sunday by the remembrance in 2009.

“When you’re a student, you have no way of knowing how you will react when confronted with all the horrible things you will see in conflicts. It’s all just theoretical,” Moore said afterwards. “I really do have a strong emotional feeling for all of my AP colleagues, even though it was another war a long time ago. Having covered a lot of conflict the last few years, I feel a certain kinship with them.”

Steve Appleford

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