Photographer Changes History One Image at a Time | NBC Southern California

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Photographer Changes History One Image at a Time

Photographer Nick Ut's work during the Vietnam War may have altered the course of history and he continues to inspire the LA community. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the 2016 NBC4 Asian Pacific Heritage Month Special. (Published Saturday, May 14, 2016)

From the dangers of the Vietnam War, to the everyday news scene in Los Angeles, photographer Nick Ut is a groundbreaker in the Asian American community.

"Every picture I've ever seen that Nick has produced and published, you just see that quality," said Battalion Chief Jaime Moore of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Ut, a Vietnamese-American, is best known for being the man behind the lens of the image that historians believe had a role in ending the Vietnam War. That image is of a young girl running naked down a dirt road, desperately trying to escape a napalm attack on the village where she lived.

The picture made a remarkable impact in the United States, and only six months later, a ceasefire was signed. Ut, who was only 16 when he began covering the war informally, received a Pulitzer Prize for the image and recalls the moments vividly.

"I saw the girl with her arms like this, running. I say, 'Why she don't have clothes?'" Ut said. "I ran and took lots of picture of her."

He is also credited with saving her life, driving her to the nearest hospital for treatment.

Ut now lives in Los Angeles and works for the Associated Press. He says he was inspired to become a photographer when his brother, who was killed in action, told him to follow in his footsteps.

"I learned so much from my brother,” Ut said. "He taught you a picture could change, could change the world."

Ut’s crowning jewel is that image, and he has toured the world with Kim Phuc, the girl in the picture who survived the effects of the attack.

Even beyond that long ago moment, though, Ut is recognized and respected widely for his work in the LA news scene, covering everything from fires to political events.

"He's just naturally capable of find the "the" photo," said AP Assignment Editor Richard Vogel. "The photo that says it all, you know?"

To learn more about Nick Ut's photos from Vietnam, visit Newseum here.

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