Image and Context: The Production and Reproduction of The Execution of a VC Suspect by Eddie Adams
One of the lasting images to emerge from the great mass of photographs of the Vietnam War is the picture of the execution of a Vietcong suspect taken by Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams on 1 February 1968 (plate 32). It now seems obligatory, when the war and photography are mentioned in the same context, to cite the Adams picture as an example of a photograph that changed the course of history, or showed the aimless brutality of war, or is simply a ‘great’ news photo. The image has become a receptacle into which the constantly shifting perceptions of Vietnam are placed. In consequence, the meaning of the photograph is not fixed or unitary but multiple and fluid according to the specific context in which it is used. In an episode of Miami Vice dealing in part with Vietnam, the camera pans slowly across Don Jonson’s Vietnam memorabilia as the character remembers his experience of the war through the collection of objects spread out across his bed. The scene focuses our attention on the Adams photograph as the carrier of memory. The brutality of the war is framed and isolated against the designer violence of the programme. The photograph signifies Vietnam, but its signified is memory and nostalgia.
KeywordsToll Univer Photography
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