Friday, May 15, 2009

Hugh Van Es 1941-2009 Photojournalist

Anybody who knows me, knows that I'm a photographer. My minor in college was photojournalism. I was inspired by the photography of Gary Williams, Robert Capa, Eddie Adams and Hugh Van Es, among others. Hugh Van Es was a Dutch photographer that took the famous helicopter in the roof shot during the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese army on April 30, 1975. He also took the photo of a wounded soldier in 1969 during the battle for Hamburger Hill.

Van Es passed away today in Hong Kong. He was 67 years old.

Hugh Van Es was born in the Netherlands on July 6, 1941. He decided on his career after seeing an exhibition by the legendary combat photographer Robert Capa and made his way to Hong Kong in 1967 to work as a freelancer.

He joined the South China Morning Post as chief photographer, and the following year went to Vietnam. He worked first as a soundman for NBC News then as a photographer for Associated Press then United Press International.

His powerful shots sent a stark message back to America about the realities of the conflict. His photograph of a wounded soldier with a tiny cross shining against his silhouette, was the best-known picture from the May 1969 battle of Hamburger Hill.

His most famous photograph, of the roof-top escape, was not, as widely believed, taken from the rooftop of the US Embassy but from a building that housed CIA staff a few blocks away.

He wrote in the The New York Times in 2005: "One of the best-known images of the Vietnam war shows something other than what almost everyone thinks it does."

As North Vietnamese forces neared Saigon, hundreds of Vietnamese joined US civilians in the grounds of the US Embassy hoping to be rescued by the helicopters carrying US military and embassy staff away.

A few blocks away, another helicopter hovered over the roof of the CIA building and a group of people scaled a ladder to safety.

It was this helicopter that Van Es photographed from the balcony of the UPI bureau, and using a 300mm lens, the longest he had.

After the Vietnam War he returned to Hong Kong — a perch from which he covered events across Asia, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.

He remained modest about his career, and younger journalists who passed through the halls of Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club knew him not from his tale-telling but only by his trademark photographer's vest.

So long Mr. Van Es. You will be remembered.

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