Eddie Adams wanted to 'make a difference' with photos

South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the National Police, fires his pistol into the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street, early in the Tet Offensive on Feb. 1, 1968. "Vietnam: The Real War," a collection of 58 photographs taken by the AP opens to the public on June 12, 2015, in Hanoi.


By REX RUTKOSKI | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Published: June 11, 2015

PITTSBURGH (Tribune News Service) — What photographers and photojournalists want most is to “make a difference with our images,” says Trib Total Media photojournalist Justin Merriman.

The late New Kensington native Eddie Adams, hailed by Merriman as “one of the most influential photographers of all time,” did that in the most significant of ways, says Merriman, the keynote speaker June 13 at the annual Eddie Adams Day Dinner at the Clarion Hotel, New Kensington.

Merriman knew Adams and studied at his famed photography workshop Barnstorm in upstate New York, now directed by his widow, Alyssa Adams, who also will be part of the June 13 activities.

Adams, who died at 71 in 2004 after battling ALS, began his career in the early 1950s for the New Kensington Daily Dispatch, now part of the Trib's Valley News Dispatch.

The dinner follows a full day of related programming, also open to the public, starting at 10 a.m. at the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Heritage Museum, Tarentum.

In a long, storied and historic career, Adams photographed 13 wars, the pope, seven presidents, 65 heads of state, including Fidel Castro, and stars ranging from Bette Davis and Clint Eastwood to Big Bird and Mickey Mouse. His career spanned journalism, corporate, editorial, fashion, entertainment and advertising photography and appeared in Time, Vogue, Vanity Fair and Parade, among other leading publications.

His war coverage began as a Marine Corps combat photographer in Korea and ended in Kuwait in 1991. Adams received more than 500 awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for one of the most iconic photos of the Vietnam War, the point-blank execution of a Viet Cong prisoner. It has been praised as “one of about five great photographs of the 20th century” that changed history.

“It changed the public's perception of the war in Vietnam,” Merriman says.

Adams' daring photos afloat with the Vietnamese “Boat People” trying to escape Communist rule are credited in many circles with accelerating the process that eventually paved the way for 200,000 Vietnamese immigrants to be admitted to the United States. Adams is said to have viewed it as one of the most important accomplishments of his life.

In 1995, he created a photo essay for Parade of some of “the most amazing, most beautiful children in America.” One image, that of a 3-year-old with leukemia who was photographed with her security blanket, moved Karen Loucks to found Project Linus. The nonprofit provides security blankets to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need through the gifts of blankets and afghans created by volunteers. Today there are more than 300 chapters of Project Linus in the United States and abroad.

“Having begun my own career as a newspaper photographer at the Valley News Dispatch, covering assignments along the same streets where Eddie shot some of his first images, I feel I've grown up in the business in his shadow,” says Merriman, 37. “Eddie's images, which the world won't soon forget, affected everyone. They still do. But we must always remember the man behind them. He was bigger-than-life.”

After covering 9/11 attacks, including the crash of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Merriman, a Greensburg native, committed to chronicling the U.S. military in its war on terror. He has followed this story across the United States and into the conflict zones of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Eddie is an example that we can make a difference and that should be the most important goal we have,” says Merriman, an award-winning photographer himself. “The business is tough. Eddie was tough, but young photographers should understand success won't be given to you — you have to earn it. Each time I was in his company, I felt I was in the company of greatness. What Eddie achieved, we could all only dream to achieve. He set out to tell stories, and, in the end, he changed the world.”

Don Henderson, president of the sponsoring New Kensington Camera Club, says that a Pennsylvania Historic Marker, which the club funded to honor Adams' accomplishments, will be dedicated June 12, 2016, on Adams' birthday, near where he began his career in New Kensington.

“He served his country, he stepped on to the world stage, but he never forgot his roots, and he never forgot the people who got him there,” Henderson says.


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