Los Angeles-based photographer Nick Ut posted on Facebook today that he has returned his Associated Press cameras to New York and will be retiring from the wire service at the end of the year. The rest of 2016 will burn off his unused vacation time. [*Update: Nick clarified on Facebook that the effective date is not until March 2017. So I edited the headline.]
Ut will complete 51 years with AP, dating back to South Vietnam in 1965, when he was a local hire in the Saigon hire of AP following the death of his photographer brother. Nick is a fixture around the Los Angeles media scene, and globally known for his 1972 photo of a naked child, Kim Phuc, running from a napalm attack in her town of Trang Bang. Ut won the Pulitzer Prize for the photo of Phuc.
Ut and Phuc appeared together at last month's Los Angeles Press Club journalism awards banquet, where he received a lifetime achievement award. Here's Gary Leonard's photo of the pair together that night.
Ut told the magazine of the National Press Photographers Association that now that he is 65 it's time to retire, but not to stop making pictures.
“I shipped all my AP cameras to New York,” Ut told News Photographer magazine tonight. “After 51 years I have a lot of vacation time to take before I retire,” he said with a big laugh. “I’m going to be taking a lot of days off until the end of the year.”
Ut says he’s retiring from AP but he’s not retiring from photography.
“I am going to travel a lot, and do workshops, and go everywhere,” he said. “I love the AP so much. They have been my family since I was 14 years old in Vietnam, and Horst Faas and Eddie Adams came to my family home for dinner.”
AP’s Vice President and Director of Photography Santiago Lyon reacted Tuesday night to Ut’s retirement plans.
“From his incredible work in Vietnam as a young man, including the iconic ‘Napalm Girl’ photograph, Nick continues to photograph for AP in Los Angeles where he covers a wide variety of news and celebrities and he does it with the same positive attitude that has served him so well throughout his life,” Lyon told News Photographer magazine. “We’ve been very lucky to have Nick on our team, and we wish him the very best of luck for his future.”
And then there was the most famous picture, “Napalm Girl,” with little Phan Thị Kim Phúc. Running down Highway #1, burned from a Vietnamese Air Force napalm drop that missed its target and struck her family’s village, and where they were hiding inside a temple for safety, the little girl and Ut met for the first time moments after he photographed her in a picture that would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize and define, for many, a searing moment in the global consciousness about the Vietnam war. Back in the States people from the White House down to factory assembly lines were forced to face the stark reality.
As the world now knows, Ut’s actions saved Kim Phúc’s life and she grew up calling “Uncle Nicky” her guardian angel until, as an adult – married with two children – she became a United Nations Ambassador for Peace, traveling the world with Ut telling their story and the story of the utter futility of war.