Wednesday, October 20, 2021


By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Horst Faas in Vietnam in 1967. He is using three different 24 x 36 mm format cameras and lenses : a Leica M2 rangefinder camera with eight elements in six groups  groups Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 First Version (top), a second Leica M2 coupled to a 6 elements in 4 groups Summaron-M 28 mm f/5.6 (middle) and a Zeiss Ikon Contarex Super chrome reflex camera with a 7 elements in 3 groups Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm f/2 (lower). Hanging from his right shoulder is the special waterproof aluminium case designed by him to take his photographic gear inside it during the frequent crossing of rivers and streams. 
© Associated Press

During his long service as an AP foreign photojournalist and picture editor in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1974, Horst Faas (1933-2012) became one of the best war photographers ever and mentor of a number of other top-notch war photographers like Peter Arnett, Huynh Thanh My, Nick Ut, Malcolm Browne, Eddie Adams, Hugh van Es, Dang van Phuoc, Henri Huet, Richard Pyle, Steve Stibbens, George Esper, Art Greenspot, Robert Ohman, Ghislain Bellorget, Neal Ulevich, Roger King, Ollie Noonan Jr, Dick Blystone and others, making up the mythical AP Saigon Bureau, which provided a very high percentage of the most famous images of the conflict to a number of newspapers and magazines all over the world.

Horst Faas in 1967 during an assignment in Vietnam, holding a 24 x 36 mm format Zeiss Ikon Contarex Super reflex camera coupled to a 4 elements in 4 groups Zeiss Sonnar 135 mm f/2.8 lens from 1964 (designed by Erwin Konschack and Günther Lange) with single-layer coating and B56 shade. The great German photographer knew that this superbly built telephoto objective (whose aperture control mechanism was on the camera body rather than on the lens) yielded excellent resolving power, contrast and sharpness, while simultaneously being prone to flare and loss of contrast, so he always used it with its hood attached. 
© AP Photo

Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes of Photography (1965 and 1972), the Robert Capa Gold Medal (1997) and the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize (2005),

First Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for News Photography bestowed to Horst Faas in 1965 for his coverage of Vietnam War. 
© Horst Faas Estate

Horst Faas has been one of the greatest and most influential war photographers in history, particularly excelling during his coverage of the Vietnam War, creating a raft of iconic pictures faithfully depicting what war really was and oozing impact, in addition to proving once and again a huge flair for this photographic genre, using Leica M cameras and highly luminous 35 mm lenses as main photographic tools.


Horst Faas´s photographic baptism took place in 1951, when being only eighteen years old he took a job as a darkroom assistant for Keystone Photo Agency in Munich, where he discovered his photojournalistic vocation on developing a lot of black and white films exposed by different photographers, as well as making prints.

The feeling on beholding black and white images appearing on photographic paper inside the darkroom was something magical for him, pervading his soul, and he started to develop an exceptional memory and thoroughness with pictures, along wit a tremendous organization and archival ability with original negatives and contact sheets, something that which would be one of his hallmarks throughout his professional career.

Three years later, he became a full-fledged photojournalist for Keystone Press, covering the Vietnam Peace Talks in Geneva in 1954 and making some more assignments in 1955, until in 1956 he was hired by AP, creating his first reportages as a war photographer between 1960 and mid 1962, making photographs of the Civil War in Congo and the Algerian War of Independence.


Horst Faas was an utterly fearless war photographer on the battlefield and steadily risked his life to get good pictures, most times from a very near distance, so his bravery was legendary among his professional colleagues.

1963. An U.S crewman running away from a U.S Army Piasecki H-21C Shawnee helicopter which was flying low and has just been shot down by Vietcong guerrillas on December 11, 1962 near the village of Ca Mau, in South Vietnam. Host Faas is at a very short distance from the pilot, who tries to desperately escape from a possible explosion of the aircraft, hit by a rocket (whose hole is visible beside the upward back left wheel of the airship touching the ground) fired by a Vietcong guerrilla fighter hidden in the jungle, probably with a B40 handheld antitank grenade launcher (North Vietnamese clone of the RPG-2), against the lower area of the chopper, destroying the tail rotor during its ascending trajectory. 
© Horst Faas/AP Photo

Besides, he always had an amazing ability to anticipate where the action would be.

And imbued with a pretty unselfish personality, the German photographer was highly skillful discovering, recruiting and supporting new photojournalists gifted for war photography, subsequently putting them under his tutelage.

His courage in the midst of the most dangerous contexts was truly mind-boggling and he never lost his nerve.

A U.S. Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter starts to come down in flames after being hit by Vietcong ground fire during Operation Hastings, just south of the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam, on July 15, 1966. 
© Horst Faas / AP Photo

   © Horst Faas / AP Photo                      

Impressive photograph in which Horst Faas captures a group of American soldiers trying to take cover as fast as possible, just after the same CH-46 Sea Knight U.S helicopter shown in the previous picture has crashed on the ground on July 15, 1966.

Incredibly, the bulky but very fast and agile German photographer has been able to run some hundred meters following the trajectory in the air of the shot helicopter during the previous seconds until reaching a spot very near a hill area where it has crashed and exploded killing one crewman and twelve marines, while three crewmen have managed to save their lives.

Horst Faas doesn´t hesitate to greatly risk his life, putting one knee on the ground to get the picture from a very low angle and achieve maximum feasible impact, sense of motion and collective convulsion. The timing accuracy and sense of composition of this image are staggering.

The middle area of the picture is the most meaningful and important one, proving for the nth time Horst´s Faas huge talent, with the two G.I running in opposite directions (the nearest one to the camera adjusting his helmet to his head and his right leg and foot in motion, while the other one is about to begin his run with his left foot on the ground and the right one in motion).

A very powerful triangle is made up by these two soldiers, hugely enhanced by the pronounced diagonal towards the left of the image described by the U.S soldier holding his rifle with his left hand crossed on his chest towards the right of the picture.

The heavy smoke visible in the background adds drama to the image, reinforced by the American soldier appearing in the distance (naked from waist upwards) between the two main characters of the photograph, framed by other soldiers around them, who run in every direction looking for shelter.

In addition, the German genius has managed to strengthen the tension of the image with a masterful pressing of the shutter release button of his Leica M2 just at the moment in which it seems that the trajectories of the soldier adjusting his helmet with his right hand and the one visible on the left of the image with both arms stretched, supporting his body weight on his left foot and with his right leg and foot in motion, will inevitably collide in the lowest middle border of the image.

Furthermore, Horst Faas has shown an stunning experience and knowledge of the distance from which he must get the picture, because if he would have approached more with his camera to the epicenter of the action, he would have become a physical hindrance for the soldiers in such a chaotic context like this, so he shoots with his Leica M2 coupled to a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 1st version from a very near distance, but leaving a wise chosen space between him and the G.Is, masterfully capturing the atmosphere of the moment with the fastest autofocus in existence then and nowadays : shooting with the camera previously set for use with hyperfocal technique, having probably selected f/8 diaphragm, in order to get extensive depth of field and enough sharpness in the whole image, from foreground to background, to such a degree that even the pieces of earth flying in the air as a consequence of the very near impact of the shell are visible slightly on the left of the middle area of the image. 

Horst Faas made always a point of getting the best possible images of the Vietnam War, with a fundamental keynote : to turn Associated Press into the reference-class news agency of the conflict in terms of defining pictures.

And he was successful, being willing to pay a high price for it if necessary.

Horst Faas on a stretcher, helped by some U.S medical soldiers while receiving a blood transfusion a few minutes after being hit by the shrapnel of an RPG rocket grenade launched by Vietcong while he was getting pictures with his Contarex Super chrome camera and Zeiss Sonnar 135 mm f/2.8 lens attached to a B56 hood in the surroundings of Bu Dop American airfield near the Cambodian border during the morning of December 6, 1967. The skill of the twenty year old U.S Army medic taking care of his shattered legs was specially instrumental to save him from bleeding to death. 
© John Wheeler (Associated Press).

And after being wounded by a rocket grenade during fighting near Bu Dop (Province of Binh Phuoc) in 1967, he was about to lose both legs.

Horst Faas during a photographic mission in South Vietnam in 1965, embedded with American troops and standing on board of a gunboat sailing through the Mekong river. Dangling from his neck is a black Leica M2 coupled to a 4 elements in 4 groups Leitz Canada Telyt-V 200 mm f/4 with built-in extendable lens hood and connected to the camera by means of a Visoflex II reflex housing with bayonet mount. 
© Associated Press

Horst Faas was also an exceedingly talented planner of assignments both for him and other photographers, able to get scoops by dint of perseverence, uncommon intuition and sense of anticipation.

A very young Horst Faas in 1965 inside the makeshift drying room for original negatives installed within one of the showers of AP main bureau in Saigon (South Vietnam). He is looking at a roll of 35 mm Tri-X 400 black and white film. An electric dryer visible beyond the door looks the part, while two further strips of 24 x 36 mm format b & w film and another one of 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) can be seen on the left. In the same way as had happened with Edward K. Thompson (assistant picture editor of Life magazine from 1937 and managing editor between 1949 and 1961) during the three previous decades, Horst Faas was able to read a picture from a negative, upside down, in the hypo, so he could work at full throttle and have prints of the best pictures within an exceedingly short time. 
© Associated Press

The upshot of it is that Horst Faas had a got a huge talent both generating defining images and as a picture editor, choosing at top speed the best pictures made by other war photographers and transmitting them by wire before the deadlines, in addition to being a great writer able to befittingly explain with words the images he saw through the lens of his camera.



January 1, 1966. Three women and a little child take cover from intense Vietcong fire in Bao Trai (Province of Long An), 20 miles west of Saigon, crouching behind a brook lavish vegetation. Horst Faas got this extraordinary picture, also being inside the water with a Leica M2 coupled to a non aspherical Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 First Version, shooting from a very near distance. The good depth of field inherent to the wideangle lens allows to discern detail in the background of the image, where some American paratroopers from the U.S 133rd Airborne Brigade with helmets and large backpacks are likewise taking shelter and watching the enemy movements. On making this image, the photographer has managed to achieve the most important goal for any good photojournalist : to go unnoticed during the photographic act, to such an extent that the three panic stricken women have been captured unaware of Horst Faas presence close to them. The countenance of the older woman located most on the left of the picture with a checkered handkerchief on her head speaks by itself, while the left hand of the young girl just behind (probably her daughter), grabbing her left shoulder and crying, adds tons of drama to the photograph and is in stark contrast with the glance of the little baby wearing a hat, held by his mother with her left arm and looking at the photographer, fully unaware about what is happenning around him. Fifty-four years later, the noise of bullets can almost be heard on seeing this image. 
© Horst Faas / AP Photo

In late 1962, Horst Faas was sent by Associated Press to Saigon (South Vietnam) as a war photographer and picture editor.

To begin with, this was an uncommon double mission (both roles and professions were clearly differentiated at the time), conspicuously showing the boundless confidence AP had on the German photographer and his already proved tremendous visual culture, experience and insight with images, bolstered with a stunning flair for selecting the most meaningful pictures.

The legendary AP Crew in Saigon, also known as Horst´s Army, in June 1970. Kneeling, from left to right : Dang Van Huan, Nick Ut, Henri Huet, Lu Xay and Tobi Pyle. Standing, from left to right : Jay Sharbutt, Le Ngoc Cung, Willis Johnson, Andree-Paule Mason, Tran Trung Tho, Horst Faas, Mark Godfrey, David Mason, Huynh Minh Trinh, Richard Pyle, Carl Robinson, Rick Merron, Tran Xuan Bao, Dang Van Phuoc, Phil McMullen, Peter Arnett, Nancy Putzel, Tran Mong Tu, Edwin Q. White and Hugh Van Es. George Esper, on leave, is represented by the telephone, while also absent are Ghislain Bellorget, Holger Jensen, Max Nash, Michael Putzel, Bob Tuckman, Neal Ulevich, Terry Wolk-Erstorfer, Luong Ba Tinh, Tran Ngo Bo, Truong Van Tam, Le Kim Phung and Tran Quan Hung. Those were the times. 
© Horst Faas Estate

Right off the bat, Horst Faas, named to practical effects Chief of Operations of AP in South East Asia, managed to spawn what would be internationally known as " Horst´s Army ", made up by the aforementioned well-known war photographers, trained and mentored by him, who would supply a lot of defining images of the Vietnam War to the best illustrated newspapers and magazines in the world during sixties and first half of seventies, complementing the extraordinary pictures made by Horst Faas himself.

Horst Faas with two Leica M cameras : the upper one Leica M2 connected to a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 Version 1 and the lower one Leica M3 coupled to a 6 elements in 5 groups chrome Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 early version with Leitz IUFOO 12575 lens hood and connected to the camera by means of a special Visoflex III reflex housing with bayonet mount and a 45 degree 4x magnifier code number 16487. 
© AP Photo

Moreover, Horst Faas was (along with Larry Burrows) a pioneer in the use of Leica M2 camera in Vietnam, because until his arrival, vast majority of AP photographers had used big 4 x 5 " (10 x 12 cm) large format Speed Graphic cameras.

But he went to Vietnam taking with him the Leica M2 cameras and lenses that he had been using since 1959 in Congo and Algeria.

And it paid off for him.

Horst Faas knew that the image quality delivered by the large format Speed Graphic cameras was impressive and it enabled to do very big enlargements and excellent selective reframings.

But they were too big, heavy and cumbersome to shoot handheld for the kind of photography he wanted to do, with both eyes open, enjoying a totally unfettered freedom and great speed of movements, enabling him to anticipate to action and above all to unobtrusively approach as much as possible to the thick of combats.

The Leica M2 (1958-1967) was the main camera used by Horst Faas during his coverage of Vietnam War from 1962 onwards. Though not reaching the stratospheric optomechanical quality of the Leica M3 and the Nikon SP (best 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras ever made, both in the analogue and digital eras), it was and goes on being a formidable camera, thanks to its range-viewfinder whose optics was computed by Willi Keiner in early fifties, optimizing it for use with 35 mm wideangle lens (the photojournalistic focal length par excellence), adding a specific bright-line frame that enabled the photographers to enjoy a superb viewing quality in symbiosis with the 0.72x viewfinder magnification, so avoiding the use of expensive optical viewfinder attachments that were needed to couple 35 mm lenses to the Leica M3, whose viewfinder magnification was 0.92x. 
© Leica Camera AG 

And the best photographic tool to attain this was a 24 x 36 mm format Leica M rangefinder camera, because of the very tiny size and light weight of both body and lenses, the superb optomechanical quality of its objectives, the lack of a swivelling mirror making possible to shoot handheld at very low shutter speeds without trepidation and a breathtaking shutter lag of only 12ms (Leica M2) between the instant in which the photographer presses the shutter release button of the camera and the exposure. 

January of 1965. A patrol of South Vietnam troops accompanied by some U.S advisers rests in the middle of the jungle near Binh Gia (Phuoc Tuy Province), 65 km in the east of Saigon. The picture shows the classical wonderful black and white image delivered by the non aspherical 8 elements in 6 groups single layer coated Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 1st Version, a very small and extraordinary lens for b & w photojournalists, with a second to none mechanic construction, particularly the brass double helicoid system confirming that this was a handcraftdely made wideangle lens with a lot of manual adjustments made by highly experienced Leica technicians during the assembly stage. Horst Faas has leveraged the full potential of this landmark lens, creating a very nice photograph in which the sunbeams enter through the Vietnamese dense jungle, lighting the soldiers. In addition, the level of detail kept in both the highlight areas and the low key ones of the rifle and holster of the standing South Vietnamese soldier nearest to the camera are commendable, all of it being visually strengthened by the triangle made up by the two visibly exhausted American advisers (the one on the left being squatted on the ground and the other one sitting on it) and the capped South Vietnamese soldier most on the left, whose forehead, nose, lips and chin are lit by the rays of sunlight. 
                                                    © Horst Faas / AP Photo                                                                           

Moreover, the images created by Horst Faas during the Vietnam War feature the unique and very nice image aesthetics delivered by non aspherical Leica M lenses designed by Walter Mandler at the Leitz Factory in Midland, Ontario (Canada), particularly the 8 elements in 6 groups Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 SAWOM 11308 First Version (1958-1969) in chrome mount and 12504 lens shade, which was the one most widely used by the German war photographer throughout this conflict.

An image clearly showing the very big size and physical strength of Horst Faas during his coverage of Vietnam War. He appears wearing helmet, photographer jacket, a Leica M2 with Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 1st Version attached to a 12504 lens hood, and a second M2 camera coupled to a Leitz Telyt-V 200 mm f/4 lens through Visoflex II reflex housing. 
© AP Photo

On the other hand, Horst Faas was a very strong man, full of stamina, featuring an outstanding resistance to fatigue, and incredibly agile for his big size and weight, who developed a highly protective attitude towards the photographers with whom he worked in Vietnam, always helping them as much as possible, guiding their careers, becoming a source of inspiration, and creating unforgettable moments and anecdotes with his very special sense of humour.  And he was also instrumental in the careers of three great women photographers : Edie Lederer ( who in October of 1972 became the first woman assigned full time to cover the Vietnam War by AP), Christine Spengler (who after buying a one way ticket to Saigon and ask AP for a chance to photograph at the front, was assigned for the first time in Vietnam by Horst Faas in 1973 after a meeting in the 17th floor of the AP building in that city and shortly after it she made her first picture of a South Vietnamese soldier swimming in a rice paddy near an ox, image that made the first page of the New York Times), Catherine Leroy (who being only twenty-one years old met Horst Faas on her arrival in Saigon in 1966 and a year later became the first woman to parachute in a combat area with the 173rd U.S Airborne Brigade during the Operation Junction City as a Life magazine war photographer), Germaine Swanson ( a stringer for Time Life in Saigon who became a key translator and liaison for the Press Corps) and others.


Aside from his immense talent, courage, speed of movements, sense of anticipation, unwavering commitment in everything he did, incredible accuracy on pressing the shutter release button of his camereas to capture the most defining instants, perseverance, abiding love for his trade, leadership and many more things, one of the key factors that turned Horst Faas into one of the foremost war photographers on earth during his coverage of the Vietnam War was undoubtedly his deep fascination for Asia, its different countries, ancient cultures and history, to such an extent that he became an expert on it.

Faas was always mesmerized by the unique landscapes of countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, Burma, etc.

And whenever it was possible, he prepared in advance each photographic mission in Vietnam, paintakingly studying maps, books and all kind of things that could help him to glean as much information as possible about the areas where he would get pictures,

January 1, 1966. Horst Faas gets this great picture of an engrossed in his thoughts American paratrooper with an M79 grenade launcher and wearing helmet, resting beside the lavish vegetation of a stream, while three Vietnamese women are likewise inside the water with their children, taking cover from Vietcong fire. The German photographer is also inside the water, has become invisible, goes unnoticed and captures a fleeting moment made everlasting in which the two very little children clinging to their mothers are gazing at the soldier´s face, perceiving his anguish and weariness. Once more, the rendition of subtleties and tonalities accomplished by the Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 First version (specially apparent in the brook waters on the right of the image) in synergy with the Leica M2 and the Kodak Tri-X 400 par excellence photojournalistic b & w film proves to be sensational, though obviously the most important factor is Horst Faas´s mastery to be at the adequate place and moment and press the shutter release button of his camera at the most meaningful instant, conveying different messages to any observer of the picture. 
© Horst Faas / AP Photo                    

many of them depicting the civil population suffering the war.

Breathtaking picture made by Horst Faas at dawn of January 10, 1966 during an extremely dangerous photographic assignment covering the advance on canoes of soldiers of a South Vietnamese Army company through the waters of Mekong river to attack a Vietcong camp thirteen miles in the northeast of Can Tho. The German photographer has taken advantage of the great quality of diffused light beautifully enhancing the damp helmets of the sitting soldiers occupying the right half of the frame, in symbiosis with the other soldiers on board of some more canoes visible on the left of the image and rendered in a more high key area, while the Monsoon rain falls on them near Vinh Long and many drops of it can be seen touching the surface of the water on the left half of the picture. The depth of field attained by the Summaron-M 28 mm f/5.6, probably stopped down to f/11 coupled to a Leica M2 is very extensive, generating great sharpness on the whole image, from foreground to background, including the right arm of the South Vietnamese soldier nearest to the photographer and the many palm tress visible just beyond the river. Horst Faas has masterfully captured the stress of the moment in which every soldier is silent and standstill, trying to avoid any noise that could detect their presence and constantly looking at the surrounding areas, with the exception of the soldier on far right of the image, appearing in deep introspection. Needless to say that this is a very risky mission, since Vietcong guerrilla combatants, hidden within the lavish vegetation adjacent to both shores of the river, used to open fire with AK-47 assault rifles and SKS carbines, so the whispering sound produced on pressing the shutter release button of the Leica M2 (much more silent than in a reflex camera) has been highly valuable. 
© Horst Faas / AP Photo

Another of his top priorities was always to prevent the AP photographers (both foreign and Vietnamese) he had trained and encouraged from taking too many risks during the assignments, frequently choosing to go alone during the most dangerous missions, so minimizing as much as he could the probability of death of other not so experienced colleagues.

That was the reason for which when he hired a 15 years old Nick Ut as a photographer for AP on January 1, 1966, he ordered him not to go with his cameras to any war zone, so Huynh Thanh My´s seven brother spent the next two years working inside the AP bureau darkroom until 1968, when he began to get pictures of combats.

As a matter of fact, from his very arrival at Vietnam in 1962 until 1974, Horst Faas became a kind of father for the rest of war photographers and correspondents in the AP Bureau of Saigon, which gained huge world celebrity on winning nothing more than five Pulitzer Prizes of Journalism throughout those twelve years :

- Horst Faas (1965, for his combat photography of the War in South Vietnam in 1964).

- Peter Arnett (1966, for his coverage of the War in Vietnam).

- Eddie Adams (1969, for his photograph " Saigon Execution " ).

- Horst Faas and Michel Laurent (1972, for their picture series " Death in Dacca " ).

- Nick Ut (1973, for his picture " Vietnamese Girl Running After Being Burnt with Napalm in the Village of Trang Bang " ).

Horst Faas was the mastermind behind everything, not only for his signature photography of the Vietnam War, but particularly as a brilliant editor and manager of AP´s far-flung international photo network, always doing his best to promote and spread the pictures made by other AP photographers, including a cadre of young South Vietnamese men coached by him to take photographs, providing them with cameras, b & w films and daily assignments.

He was a Renaissance Man with vast culture, able to speak for many hours on a wide range of topics, and had great interest for history and art, to such an extent that he would turn into a great collector of Asian antiquities.

All of his colleague war photographers loved him, and the Vietnam conflict forged lifelong bonds amongst them, greatly built on the new standards Horst Faas set for future generations of professionals embracing this photographic genre and also steadfastly searching for the most telling images.

August of 1962. Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the South Vietnamese 36th Infantry Division inside a troop carrier of the U.S Navy are being taken towards their base in Ca Mau (a city located in the delta of Mekong River, 362 km in the south of Saigon) after fighting against Vietcong forces for some days. Shooting from an elevated position, raised on the top border of the vessel, Horst Faas masterfully captures the utter weariness of these huddled South Vietnamese soldiers appearing in the image, most of them frazzled and overcome by deep drowsiness. The most important element of the composition is the sitting South Vietnamese soldier placed on the middle left area of the picture. He has got a M1 Garand rifle and is engrossed in his thoughts, highly probably remembering the ordeal all of them have experienced, embodied by his countenance, since conditions for both South Vietnamese and U.S troops during Vietnam War were appalling because of a number of reasons : the huge levels of humidity between 80% and 90% often bringing about thermal sensations around 50º C increased with the stress of combats, the constant sweating buckets, the continuous and relentless ambushes organized by Vietcong (using hit and run tactics and whose members were very difficult to spot, hidden and camouflaged within the dense foliage of the Vietnamese jungle), the massive presence of VC snipers shooting from close and medium distances with AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles and SKS carbines and from long ranges with Mosin-Nagant rifles, the booby traps put everywhere by VC, the network of deep tunnels dug by VC all over South Vietnam and from which they launched surprise attacks, etc. 
© Horst Faas / AP Photo

Horst Faas never lost his passion for great stories, took a lot of pride for being an AP newsman and made all the photographers and journalists around him better.

© Horst Faas / AP Photo

A young South Vietnamese woman photographed at widest aperture by Horst Faas with a 24 x 36 mm format Zeiss Ikon Contarex Super camera coupled to a black Zeiss 135 mm f/2.8 telephoto lens with chrome focusing ring in April of 1969 near the village of Dien Bai (in the east of the city of Hue) while she covers her mouth as she stares into a mass grave where victims of a reported Viet Cong massacre were being exhumed. The woman's husband, father and brother had been missing since the Tet Offensive, and were feared to be among those killed by Communist forces. Though Horst Faas made vast majority of his pictures of Vietnam War with Leica M2 rangefinder cameras and Leica M lenses,

he also used the reflex Contarex Super with this medium telephoto lens, fully aware that since its introduction in 1967, it was by far the best and most advanced 24 x 36 mm format slr camera in the world, an utterly mechanical masterpiece of German engineering and even superior to the also extraordinary Nikon F2 launched into market in 1971. Horst Faas applied a practical approach, because though the Contarex Super was big and heavy, he could easily handle it thanks to his great physical strength and bring into play its reference-class unbelievably bright and sharp viewfinder and its state-of-the-art for the time TTL true spot metering system. In addition, many of the Carl Zeiss Oberkochen lenses for Contarex cameras are even nowadays unsurpassed within the 24 x 36 mm reflex scope in terms of optomechanical quality (Horst Faas knew that the extreme precision of the centering of their optical elements and its very special lens mount made them get the upper hand) and superb cosmetic appearance with their gorgeous satin chrome finish, as well as featuring highly advanced automatic diaphragms to the extent that the camera was focused with the lens at full aperture, which then stopped down automatically when the shutter was fired, remaining stopped down until the camera was wound. 

On the other hand, Horst Faas was highly admired not only by his colleague war photographers and journalists but also by the rank and file of U.S G.Is, paratroopers and marines, and some high officers often confirmed that the German photographer had probably seen and experienced more gruesome situations than vast majority of the soldiers involved in combat operations.

March 19, 1964. Horst Faas photographs a shocked father who holds the body of his child and stares at South Vietnamese Army Rangers looking down from their armored vehicle.. The child was killed as ARVN forces fought against Vietcong guerrillas in a village near the Cambodian border. The German photographer stated many times that apart from the coverage of military operations and combats, one of the most important goals with his images was to depict the suffering, emotions and sacrifices of Vietnamese civil population, caught in the crossfire between contenders. 
© Horst Faas / AP Photo

Two American soldiers help a wounded comrade during an operation against Vietcong in the Vietnamese jungle. In spite of shooting from an exceedingly near distance and a perpendicular position, just in front of them, the photographer manages to go unnoticed and masterfully captures the arduous endeavour made by the two G.Is to take the wounded man to a rescue helicopter which both of them are looking at and is in the air approaching to the place. Many of the images made by Horst Faas in Vietnam also reflect the huge hardships that American troops had to endure during this war. 
© Horst Faas / AP Photo


After Vietnam War, Horst Faas moved in 1976 to London as AP´s senior photo editor for Europe, retiring in 2004.

In 1997, Random House published the book " Requiem : By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina ", written by Horst Faas and Tim Page (a war photographer of United Press International), where they make a laudable selection of pictures made by more than eighty photographers and journalists from ten different nationalities killed during the Wars in Vietnam between forties and seventies, and it turned since early 2000 into a travelling photographic exhibition all over the world under the custody of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

© Roger King / AP Photo

In 1998, Horst Faas and Richard Pyle went to Laos along with a Hawaii based Pentagon  unit specialized in searching American soldiers missing in action in Indochina, managed to find the place where photographers Larry Burrows (Life magazine), Henry Huet (Associated Press), (Ken Potter United Press International) and Keishaburo Shimamoto (Newsweek) were killed on February 10, 1971 when the South Vietnamese helicopter in which they were flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, covering the Operation Lamson 719, was shot down by a North Vietnamese 37 mm antiaircraft gun and exploded in mid air.

And with the help of local workers, they could also recover camera parts, film and other items, together with traces of organic material of the four photographers.

Horst Faas and Larry Burrows in a street of Saigon in 1964. Both war photographers had a lot of conversations inside the AP main bureu in that city during the frequent visits made to it by the great British war photographer (who was always a master of the Vietnam reportage for Horst Faas), and both of them coincided during many assignments in other areas of the world (photographing the big temples of Borobodur in Indonesia in 1970, in Calcutta in January of 1971, etc).

But Horst Faas and Richard Pyle needed to pay homage to their lost friends,

Cover of the book " Lost Over Laos : A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery and Friendship ", written by Horst Faas and Richard Pyle, with foreword by David Halberstam.

and five years later, in 2003, both of them were the authors of the book " Lost Over Laos : A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery and Friendship ", published by Da Capo Press, whose presentation at the Overseas Press Club in 40 W. 45th Street in New York on January 4, 2003 was an unforgettable and very touching event, conducted by Larry Martz, former President, as well as having the attendance of Horst Faas and Richard Pyle.

One year later, on May 4, 2005, shortly after the celebration event of the 30th Anniversary of the end of Vietnam War with photojournalists who covered it, when they had just held a meeting on the rooftrop of Rex Hotel in Saigon, Horst Faas was stricken by a blood clot on his spinal column, being evacuated by plane to a hospital in Thailand, and after some days, he was taken in a flight of Thai International to Munich, where he was hospitalized again at the Klinik Murnau in the outskirts of the Bavarian capital.

From then to his death in 2012, Horst Faas lost all his sensitiveness under the waist, so he couldn´t walk and had to use a wheel chair at every moment, as was confirmed by his great friend Marianne Fulton (Chief Curator of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film between 1975 and 2002, as well as worldwide lecturer and organizer of more than 80 exhibitions with pictures made by world-class photographers) who visited him in the Unfallklinik Murnau.

But he plucked up courage and kept on as active as possible, organizing a lot of worldwide meeting of photojournalists, reunions of the war time Saigon Press Corps, international photojournalism symposiums, exhibitions of his work in different countries, etc.

Something exceedingly praiseworthy, because Horst Faas spent the seven years of his life virtually disabled, on a wheel chair and above all suffering from continuous and very intense pains that the legendary old lion tried to conceal before everybody.

On April 3 and 4 of 2008, the scant remains of Larry Burrows, Henry Huet, Kent Potter and Keishaburo Shimamoto were honoured, with eulogies and speeches by Richard Pyle, Horst Faas, Russell Burrows (Larry Burrow´s son), Peter Pritchard (Newseum President) and Tom Curley (AP President) and buried at the Newseum in Washington, D.C, along with seven South Vietnamese soldiers who went also inside the helicopter when it was shot down.

That same year appeared a new book :" Horst Faas, 50 Years of Photojournalism ", published by Editions du Chêne, profusely illustrated and written by Horst Faas and Helene Gedouin, a remarkable work that was selected by Visa Por L´Image Perpignan.

Horst Faas looking at some pictures of his retrospective exhibition at the Couvent des Minimes in Perpignan, southern France, on September 5, 2008, during the Visa Pour L´Image 20th International Festival of Photojournalism.

In a last strenuous effort to promote photojournalism and encourage new young war photographers, Horst Faas made two arduous trips to United States in 2006 and 2008, giving some very interesting lectures, and also helped to the development of the Degree Program in Photojournalism of the University of Magdeburg-Stendal, founded in 2008.

In late 2008, his health deteriorated even more and he had to be hospitalized again because of skin problems, but he had to also undergo gastric surgery.

The paralysis had remained since 2005, when an Australian doctor at the Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok (Thailand) discovered the blood clot in his spinal column and made the first surgery to drain it.

Increasingly ailing and weak, Horst barely made further public appearances from 2010, and died on May 10, 2012 in a hospital of Munich.

© AP Photo

Horst Faas, a giant in the History of Photography. His pictures defined the Vietnam War, in the same way as the images made in that conflict by other great photographers of Associated Press taught by him and whose images he very wisely edited. In addition, he carved out new standards for covering wars, was the key photo editor of the Vietnam War and became a role model for today´s front line war photographers around the globe.

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1 comment:

  1. Admirably written by José Manuel Serrano Esparza, it is a complimentary tribute to a man behind a camera whose work created awareness of the atrocious, absurd and useless of war. Now he belongs to history and pays homage to Horst Faas as a man committed to his time. I was a teenager during the Vietnam War and I was forever marked by the images of the great and brave photographers who made us see, grow and recognize that the world is not rosy. Congratulations.