New Kensington, Tarentum to celebrate Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer
“Eddie Adams: Vietnam,” a traveling national exhibit now at Penn State New Kensington featuring more than 50 works by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, is just one of the events celebrating the New Kensington native this month.
A Pennsylvania historical marker honoring Adams, an effort that has been years in bringing to fruition, will be unveiled and dedicated May 29 in New Kensington, followed by a free reception at the Alle-Kiski Valley Historical Society’s Heritage Museum, Tarentum.
“The ‘Eddie Adams: Vietnam’ exhibit at Penn State brings home the intense reality of the Vietnam War, including his iconic 1969 prize winner. Some of the photos are very graphic and are not appropriate for young children, but I hope these photos will teach people about the horror of the Vietnam War,” says Don Henderson, president of the New Kensington Camera Club.
“You almost can’t talk about Eddie Adams without talking about Vietnam. Vietnam was a definitive moment in Eddie’s life. His Vietnam photos changed the way Americans perceived the war. His war photos are powerful and gripping and were even life-changing for so many people both here and in Vietnam. They continue to motivate and inspire today.”
Framed quotes from Adams, who covered 13 wars from the early 1950s to 1991, are scattered among the photographs, such as, “I think all war should be shot in black and white. It’s more primitive. Color tends to make things look too nice. It makes the jungle in Vietnam look lush. It was, but it wasn’t nice.”
Pictures don’t tell the whole story, Adams said. “You don’t see all sides. But pictures are important because people believe in them.”
And in talking about the children he saw in Vietnam, Adams said, “No matter when you aim your camera at children, the children will smile. This is the first time in my life that nobody smiled, not even the children.”
“Eddie’s pictures embody everything that was wrong with that war: the brutality of it, the pointlessness of it, who were the bad guys and who were the good guys,” reads a quote from famed CBS reporter Morley Safer, who died May 19.
Visitors can augment the experience by listening to a playlist of classic songs from the Vietnam War era — including music from Bob Dylan, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones — on MP3 players that will be available.
There will be a free reception for the exhibit May 28, with a gallery talk by author and photo editor Hal Buell, Adams’ former boss at the Associated Press. Buell says that while Adams had many talents, his “attitude toward ideas” is what impressed him the most. An editor could suggest a picture idea to Adams, and he would latch onto it, Buell says, “but he would make it more than it was, shoot pictures that went beyond expectations.”
Adams’ focus was always and completely on the assignment he covered, his former editor says. “He was obsessed with making the perfect picture.”
Adams’ widow, Alyssa, who edited the coffee table book of the exhibit’s photos, also will be at the event. The book is on sale at the Heritage Museum with proceeds going to the museum, says Dolly Mistrik, president of the Alle-Kiski Historical Society.
“He could sum up a very large concept (aging, love, power, innocence) into one graphic, clean image,” Alyssa Adams has said. “He had empathy and respect for his subjects, which you can feel in his photos.”
The documentary, “An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story,” also is expected to be screened.
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.