black and white photo of children fleeing

Teaching with Images

They say one image is worth a thousand words, which may or may not be true depending on your verbosity. However, you can certainly use one image to spark a multitude of discussions. The image featured here is the famous AP photo by Nick Ut of nine year-old Kim Phuc running screaming down the road from her village (used in WorldView Software‘s American History II).  She ripped off her burning clothes, but still couldn’t escape the jellied napalm that clung to her skin:

It was Ut, now 65, who captured Phuc’s agony on June 8, 1972, after the South Vietnamese military accidentally dropped napalm on civilians in Phuc’s village, Trang Bang, outside Saigon.

Ut remembers the girl screaming in Vietnamese, “Too hot! Too hot!” He put her in the AP van where she crouched on the floor, her burnt skin raw and peeling off her body as she sobbed, “I think I’m dying, too hot, too hot, I’m dying.”

He took her to a hospital. Only then did he return to the Saigon bureau to file his photographs, including the one of Phuc on fire that would win the Pulitzer Prize.

She was incredibly able to survive the burns over a third of her body.  The image is back in the news because Ms. Phuc, who now lives in Canada with her husband and children, is set to undergo laser treatment that will hopefully relieve the agony from the scarring that she has lived with ever since recovering.

As a teacher, there are many questions that can be generated for this image, aside from the obvious one about its effect on the anti-war movement in the United States.

  • Use it to compare to other famous images from that conflict, such as Eddie Adams’s photo of a general summarily executing a prisoner — what assumptions are you as the viewer making about the image? How much background and context do you know about it?
  • This image is a snapshot in time, but we’re revisiting it in this blog because the consequences of that moment in time continue to reverberate — the child grew up and became an adult.  Kim Phuc started the KIM Foundation,  which provides medical and psychological assistance to children wounded in war.  Is an image’s job done if it raises awareness in the moment?  Or are there echoes?
  • What does it mean when such a powerful image is protected by restrictive copyright laws?  What is “fair use” of such an image?
  • What is the role of the photojournalist?  What, if any, rules or guidelines should they follow when covering the news?  Do these rules apply to other journalists as well?

And so on.  Let us know in the comments about other discussions!

BulbgraphOnOffArt images are a great way to introduce units: use them to generate questions on all sorts of topics!

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Dr. Annelies Kamran is V.P. for Content and Product Development at WorldView Software, Inc.

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