Philip Jones Griffiths

Philip Jones Griffiths  said, You can cover a hell of a lot wide and shallow or you can cover a small number of things narrow and deep. Both are valid. But those who decide to do narrow and deep produce something that ultimately lasts. Having a collection of photographs that shows Welsh miners and anti nuclear protesters to earthquake victims and a Hiroshima cemetery, which serves as a powerful articulation of culture, his work has truly lasted for centuries to come, even after his death (Messer, n. d.).

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.  Anonymous.

It may also be the Griffiths could have been killed because of his photojournalisms advocacy for peace but his photos and in fact his very life takes our breath away.

But how did Griffith developed into that photographer who chose to dwell with those small things narrow and deep and covered cultural conflict

In the world of Photojournalism, the most popular themes are the lives of actors and actresses, Hollywood, models, commercial themes that aim to sell, and the lives of politicians. These are what Griffiths refer to that one photojournalist can cover and he or she will not find a hard time looking. Corporations hire these people for advertising, actors and actresses love media coverage, and politicians you can see every day. Griffiths chose to take the difficult assignments where the path is difficult and where even angels fear to tread. By choosing to cover Vietnam war, Griffiths was able to show to the world the violence done to the human spirit and the tenacity of the Vietnamese people. By venturing into the narrow path, he was able to break into the depths of a people and he really made a difference in the world. His pictures were instrumental in opening the eyes of the American public that what they were doing is immoral. His pictures contributed to the moral fiber of the peace movement which help stopped the war and the killings. Griffiths ventured into the narrow path that actually led to the end of the war and to the affirmation of  Life. He sacrificed, was scorned, and was heavily criticized even to the point of having threats to his life.

Griffiths reminds me of the passage in the Gospel
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.   Matthew 713-16

While contemporaries of Griffiths took the wide path and was having the fun in their lives, Griffiths took the risks even at the  threat of his life just to go into the narrow path of war to shoot those breathtaking photographs of suffering and pain.  In the end he was able to produce something that the world will never forget. He was actually partly responsible for the cessation of hostilities.

According to an interview by William Messer in Aperture Magazine, the photography of Philip Jones Griffiths was not just an ordinary piece of photography, nor not just an artistic one on the contrary, the work of Griffiths represents one kind of cultural conflict, be it ideological economic, religious, moral, class or gender or generational and that his photography actually represents one of the worlds best and most undaunted. In this case, truly, his photography did not just simply look at ordinary things around, nor simply focused on glamour, popularity, or beauty on the contrary, his photography captured one of the worlds most dramatic moments conflict.

As compared with the new breed of photographers that came into view such as Darren Durlach, Griffiths is able to show things that lasts in his photography. Durlach was named Ernie Crisp Television Photographer of the Year and won these two titles in a row. (Darren Durlach Named 2010 Ernie Crisp Television Photographer of the Year, 2010)  According to the judges, his work is well-shot and allowed the viewers to experience the stories... and It felt like the shooter never stayed in one place or had one person micd up for more than a few minutes. Lots of changing perspectives, both camera angle and sound wise.  (Darren Durlach Named 2010 Ernie Crisp Television Photographer of the Year, 2010) Viewing his video of the flood in Baltimore with all the comments being made by the victims, though it was depicting a natural disaster in relation to environmental issues, lack depth of the real emotions they have within them. Nice cars parked on the road about to be taken away by the wave of flood, did not clearly deliver the message of the photographer. It was not clear if this was an environmental issue he is trying to say to his viewer or technological advance useless being awashed or lack of government disaster relief response.

Durlach is surely a talented photojournalist but he was more interested in the art of photojournalism more than the human situation. Griffiths was able to demonstrate that his values are not based in matter and in flesh as do models and flashy cars depict but in the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. These themes he was able to capture well in his photography.

Unlike his counterparts who were making big money in photojournalism, Magnumagency found Griffiths images difficult to sell to American magazines.His photography depicted the suffering of the Vietnamese people and reflected his view of the war as a continuingdecolonizationof old European colonies. With his few earnings on shooting Jacqueline Kennedys vacation  helped him continue his coverage of Vietnam and to publish on his own Vietnam Inc. in 1971. In this case, it can clearly be seen that Griffith was not limited into the economic side of being a freelance photographer, in which photos that people wants to see must be shown in order to get money. On the contrary, Griffith has chosen his personal beliefs and his conscience to guide his photography, whether the people may like it or not. He is the epitome of what William Saroya is saying in a passage of his poem In the Time of Your Life
Place in matter and in flesh
The least of the values
For these are things that hold death
And must pass away.

In Griffiths case, his purpose had let his photography to move into higher ideals transcending economic difficulties, and has enabled him to show photographs that common people may not want to see, but they must see. In a time where the media, as well as the established world institutions have been trying to justify the Vietnam War in the fight versus evil communism, he has been able to show the horrors of the very war itself, including human suffering, human sacrifice, and terrible horror, in a war ironically meant to preserve democracy. He was not limited to show what the people wanted to see, but instead shown photos of what he personally wanted to show, regardless of opposition and ideological background. He has chosen to integrate his own ideology into his own photos, including the critique of the terrible  agent orange  through his works, making it great enough.

This steadfast belief shown through his photos continued in his later life, despite earning bad remarks from society.HYPERLINK httpen.wikipedia.orgwikiNguyE1BB85n_VC483n_ThiE1BB87u o Nguyn Vn ThiuNguyn Vn Thiu, the South Vietnamese president was not at all impressed and remarked, Let me tell you there are many people I don t want back in my country, but I can assure you Mr. Griffith s name is at the top of the list.

This statement by the South Vietnamese is no laughing matter. In a time when the CIA led Phoenix program assassinated at least 20,000 individuals in South Vietnam, Griffiths is lucky to be still alive. He put his life on the line, transcending fear and the death of his body in exchange for the message and the life of his beliefs and advocacies through his pictures. Mao Tse Tung once said,
All people die. But what matters is how. He can die as light as a feather or as heavy as Mount Tai. If he serves the oppressors then his death is as light as a feather. If he serves the people, his death would be as heavy as Mount Tai.

The book Vietnam Inc., a showpiece of his strong photography, did not only serve as mere photos of the terror of the Vietnam War, but as well as his coverage of this cultural conflict, and his persona crusade against world imperialism and capitalist domination. The book was reprinted in 2001 with the foreword written byNoam Chomsky, and said that if Americans only has seen Griffithss photos of the war in Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq wouldnt come to be. Subsequent books included Dark Odyssey,a collection that includes his best pictures, and Agent Orange,dealing with the impact of the after effects of the Vietnam Waron the generations left in the savaged country. He has always been an acute social critic who always was accused to lean on the left ideological spectrum, and whose own ideological leanings were even acknowledged. Like most of the younger generation of photographers in Vietnam at that time, his work questioned the presence of America in Southeast Asia which astounded military media managers. He dared to show his works despite journalistic contingent who appeared to be horrified by the critical reports and revealing photo stories that began to appear in mainstream publications across the world.

His passion for the plight of the Vietnamese people and photography was also a compilation of the depredations of Vietnamese economy. And what has made a great impression in photos, making it fit for greatness This is his fearless stand to show his personal beliefs in his compelling photographs, challenging the very notion of journalist objectivity in photography. Griffiths wrote detailed and acerbic text, a series of captions of the pictures that powerfully delivered his anger and despair of the horrific war. He dared to depicted children in villages burnt-out, caught several Vietnamese interrogated, families facing gunpoint by the US Marines, dead children and babies soaked in blood, prostitution houses in Saigon, and prostituted girls, images of the bad side of the war against evil communism, of the war for democracy, in a time where the world chose to stand by its ideological justifications. There were also pictures of the bewildered and confused Marines soaked by the monsoon, fighting their way through the rice fields and the jungle. He also dared to document the US militarys attempts to impose their own ideologically laden social system into Vietnamese society, regardless of what the Vietnamese wants. The war photographer became a heroic figure in the public imagination and photographers, at least in those who dares to resist against the ruling ideology.
Griffiths is fond of saying that having been born and brought up under British imperialism in North Wales predisposed him to recognize imperialism when he saw it. I saw the war in Vietnam as an attempt by one country to impose its cultural values on another. He arrived in Vietnam in 1966 convinced that photography was a tool of shining the bright light of truth into the dark corners of history as it happened.

With this all said, it can be shown that Griffiths actually have chosen to look, capture, and show images that may be considered as anti-establishment, and also seek to make photography as a tool to show the terrible suffering of humans under ideological and cultural conflict. In this case, then, he also dared not to deny his ideological leanings in his photography, but also attempted to expose the ideological biases of the events that he has captured. This is what has made him capture little things narrow and deep making it last. He has dared to bring photography into a higher level, into the battlefield of cultural conflict. In a time where capitalism is again under question, where issues of globalization, climate change, poverty, and terrorism are again pitted into a cultural battlefield, and where wars on other lands such as in Iraq and Afghanistan are so dominated by ruling establishments, Griffith example is needed to be revisited again.

Griffiths life and works reminds of the prayer I once memorized from a bookmark whose author is unknown.
Teach me Lord to be daring,
To venture into the higher seas
Where the storms shall show thy mastery..
Where losing sight of land,
We seethe stars.
So to Philip Jones Griffiths, I say, thank you for bringing into the world things that ultimately last.


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