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Reaching Out: Remembering Larry Burrows on his Death Anniversary

February 9th, 2013 No Comments
Larry Burrows

Larry Burrows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On rare occasions photographs become so famous, so instantly-recognizable, so much a part of a culture, that they become known by a short, informal name.  The Vietnam War spawned three such photographs: ‘Execution of a VietCong’ by Eddie Adams, ‘Napalm Girl’ by Nick Ut, and ‘Reaching Out’ by Larry Burrows.  Tomorrow, 10th February, is Burrows’s death anniversary.  He was killed in a helicopter crash after he had returned to Indochina in 1971 to cover the war’s spreading into Laos.

Larry Burrows was a staff photographer for LIFE and he travelled extensively, specializing, so to speak, in areas that were wracked with tumult and conflict.  Burrows was a famously discreet Englishman with a modest nature and a brave heart whose photographs were regularly printed in LIFE – except for his touchstone image, which was photographed in 1966 but not published until 1971. 

In ‘Reaching Out’, one looks into a devastated, otherworldly landscape; it is the slate on which a human drama seems to be playing out, frozen by Burrows’s camera: a wounded and stricken soldier is seated propped up against a blasted stump while a comrade, also wounded and looking equally stricken, seems to be ‘reaching out’ to him.  The ‘co-star’ soldiers around the Michelangelo-esque twosome lend human interest to this tension-fraught photograph.

The fact that Burrows captured a special and unique moment is made evident in a subsequent frame which shows that all the tension and ‘fraught-ness’ that permeates the iconic image dissipated in perhaps a minute.  That frame alongwith a remembrance to Burrows and his immortal photograph is available on LIFE’s Behind the Picture series.

You can see more Burrows photographs here and here where you will find a harrowing work of a bereaved Vietnamese woman and an emotional and touching one of a wounded youth receiving first aid.


No less than another fantastic war photographer, AP’s Horst Faas, who shot perhaps the most astonishing and remarkable portfolio of images of the Vietnam War, wrote: “Larry Burrows was the most versatile press photographer I knew . . . . If there would have been a vote for the most respected and loved newsperson in Vietnam, Larry would have almost certainly come out tops . . .”




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