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Faas Protege Remembers Legendary Photographer


Finally, this hour, we remember photojournalist Horst Faas. He spent nearly a decade capturing the terror and inhumanity of the war in Vietnam. Working for the Associated Press, his images of panicked Vietnamese civilians, wounded U.S. soldiers, a blindfolded Viet Cong suspect brought the war to people all over the world.

Horst Faas died yesterday at age 79 in his native Germany. Hal Buell was his editor. He was the executive news photo editor for the AP while Faas was in Vietnam. Buell says, as photos came in from the field, he could immediately tell which ones had been taken by Faas.

HAL BUELL: His photography was extremely clean. His exposures were right on the money. His pictures were very well composed and they were very storytelling. A lot of photographers shoot, shoot, shoot, but Horst was very careful with his selection of the subject matter.

BLOCK: I keep looking, Mr. Buell, at a picture that Horst Faas shot in 1966 outside Saigon and it says women and children who've taken cover from Viet Cong fire. They're in a muddy canal and one of them is holding a baby and you can tell from the angle of that picture that Horst Faas must be right there in the mud with them, waist-deep in the mud.

BUELL: Well, Horst, as with all photographers in Vietnam, especially those who made the kinds of pictures that Horst did, had to get close to the action. That's the only way you can get pictures like that. He did a picture essay on a place called Dom Sai, which was unbelievable. He almost died there. He made one of the few pictures that shows a Viet Cong and the Vietnamese army people in the same photograph and he had another startling picture of a Viet Cong looking right at him as he photographed the picture across the small no-man's land.

So Horst got close to the action. That's the way you get pictures like that.

BLOCK: Yeah. Would you see those pictures and, on the one hand, be thankful that he was that close and, as his friend and colleague, wish that maybe he'd been a little farther back?

BUELL: Well, photographers don't talk about that. They all know they have to get close to get the pictures. You know, he was very seriously wounded in Vietnam, almost died. And he was saved by an Army medic. He was out of action for - oh, quite a few months, not of action coverage, but he was still doing work in the bureau doing the editing of other photographers' material.

BLOCK: We're focusing on Horst Faas' work in Vietnam, but there were many, many countries that he went to, both before and after the Vietnam War where he captured...


BLOCK: ...just stunning, stunning images of extreme brutality.

BUELL: Yes. He covered the war in the Congo and he covered the Algerian crisis. That was one his early assignments when he was a photographer in our Bonn bureau - Bonn, Germany bureau.

His second Pulitzer was made in Bangladesh. His first Pulitzer Prize was the first Vietnam Pulitzer that was awarded during the war period.

BLOCK: What was he like as a person? It takes a certain type to be a war photographer and I wonder if he fit that mold.

BUELL: Well, of course, he was a man who possessed great courage, which he displayed on the battlefield and in the later years of his life when he was paralyzed for so many years. He possessed a great sense of humor. He was absolutely brilliant. He was a planner. He put together an operation in Vietnam that resulted in coverage of a war that I believe has never been photographed in that way and I don't believe any one in the future will ever be photographed the way Vietnam was covered.

He just had this journalist sense of what news was and the photographer's sense of how you tell that story in pictures.

BLOCK: Hal Buell, thank you so much for talking with us today.

BUELL: Yeah. Bye-bye.

BLOCK: Hal Buell was former executive news photo editor for the Associated Press. We were talking about photojournalist Horst Faas, who died yesterday at age 79. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.