Nick Huỳnh Công Út, known professionally as Ut is a photographer for the Associated Press (AP) who works out of Los Angeles. He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for "The Terror of War", depicting children in flight from a napalm bombing. In particular, his best known photo features a naked 9-year-old girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, running toward the camera from a South Vietnamese napalm attack on North Vietnamese invaders at the Trảng Bàng village during the Vietnam War. On the 40th anniversary of that Pulitzer Prize-winning photo in September 2012, Ut became the third person inducted by the Leica Hall of Fame for his contributions to photojournalism.
Born in Long An, Viet Nam, Ut began to take photographs for the Associated Press when he was 16, just after his older brother Huynh Thanh My, another AP photographer, was killed in Vietnam. Ut himself was wounded three times in the war in his knee, arm, and stomach. Ut has since worked for the Associated Press in Tokyo, South Korea, and Hanoi and still maintains contact with Kim Phuc, who now resides in Canada. Introduced by his mother to the AP office at only 14 years old, Nick Ut started working for the Associated Press in November 1965, a few weeks after his brother, Huynh Thanh My, who was also working for the AP, was killed while photographing combat scenes during the Vietnam War.
Nick Ut was hired by Horst Fass on January 1, 1966, after a six-week trial period during which he mixed photo processing chemicals and kept the darkroom tidy. Although he never took photography classes, by 1967 he managed to become an accomplished photojournalist, his photographs attesting to his skills and courage to shoot the combat action during the communist Tet offensive. Nick Ut was wounded three times while shooting photos depicting the cruel reality of the war in Vietnam. He has continued to work for the AP in South Korea, Hanoi and Tokyo.
Before delivering his film with the Kim Phúc photo, he took her to the hospital. The publication of the photo was delayed due to the AP bureau's debate about transmitting a naked girl's photo over the wire:
...an editor at the AP rejected the photo of Kim Phuc running down the road without clothing because it showed frontal nudity. Pictures of nudes of all ages and sexes, and especially frontal views were an absolute no-no at the Associated Press in 1972...Horst argued by telex with the New York head-office that an exception must be made, with the compromise that no close-up of the girl Kim Phuc alone would be transmitted. The New York photo editor, Hal Buell, agreed that the news value of the photograph overrode any reservations about nudity.
— Nick Ut
Published in the New York Times, Ut took the famous photograph of the devastating conflict in Vietnam which captured children screaming and running away from the incredibly painful fire of napalm. He photographed this scene on June 8, 1972 in Trang Bang, which was attacked by the North Vietnamese troops. In addition to earning him the coveted Pulitzer Prize, this photo also won several other awards, including the Word Press Photo of the Year in 1972.
Nine-year old Kim Phuc, the child depicted in the center of this photograph while running naked on a road with severe burns on her back caused by the attack, started to receive a lot of attention afterwards. This photo changed not only Kim Phuc’s life, but it made Nick Ut one of the most appreciated and highly-praised photojournalists covering the horror of the Vietnam War.
He was recognized not only for his professional abilities, but also for his humanity as well. After taking this photo, Nick Ut took the severely burned little girl to the hospital in Saigon, where she stayed for more than a year and underwent 17 surgical procedures. Kim Phuc has become a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations.
Nick Ut was the third recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize (awarded in 1973) and in September 2012, 40 years after taking the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, he was included in the Leica Hall of Fame for his outstanding achievements in photojournalism.
Nick Ut arrived in Los Angeles in 1977 as a Vietnamese refugee. He continued to work as an AP photographer on various assignments. In 1989, he returned to Vietnam to cover the story behind the search for Americans who were still missing in action. In 1993, he opened the new AP office in Hanoi together with his old friend, George Esper.
His famous photos, taken on June 8 (again), but this time in 2007, depicted Paris Hilton crying in the back seat of a L.A. County Sheriff’s cruiser as she was transported from her home to court, were published all over the globe.