By Donald R. Winslow
© 2009 News Photographer magazine
AUSTIN, TX – On the eve of the fifth anniversary of his death, the extensive photographic archive of Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Eddie Adams has been donated by his widow, Alyssa Adams, to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
The announcement was made this morning at the Briscoe Center. Adams was joined in the announcement by Dr. Don Carleton, the center's executive director, and University of Texas president William J. Powers Jr. The Briscoe Center has estimated that Adams' archive has a value of more than $7 million.
Undoubtedly one of America's most famous photographers, Adams covered 13 wars, six American presidents, and nearly every major film star over a 50 year period. He was an NPPA member since 1951.
The extensive archive documents Adams’ prolific career and includes the iconic photograph “Saigon Execution,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of South Vietnamese national police commander Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a suspected Viet Cong prisoner in 1968.
The photograph is widely considered to be one of the most influential photographs taken during the Vietnam war, but it was an image that Adams almost shunned later in life as he became growingly concerned that he might be remembered only for that picture, that his career would be defined by "The Execution" photograph and not by his entire body of work. Additionally, he was haunted by the fact that he believed that he had vilified Gen. Loan.
Before he died of Lou Gehrig's Disease on September 19, 2004, at the age of 71, Adams told friends that he didn't want to be remembered as "a one-trick pony" because of the Pulitzer photograph, and that he was far more proud of his "Boat Of No Smiles" essay, a series of pictures he shot of Vietnamese boat people as the refugees drifted helplessly at sea without food and water. To cover the refugees, Adams had joined them in their shabby vessels, carrying no provisions of his own and going through the same hardships they experienced.
Landing on the pages of major American newspapers, the powerful "Boat Of No Smiles" essay influenced the White House and Congress and resulted in more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees being admitted to America at the end of the war, an outcome that greatly satisfied Adams.
"It was important that Eddie's legacy be preserved by an educational institution, one that collects photojournalism for teaching and research," Alyssa Adams said. "He was such an important mentor and colleague to the community of photojournalists, so it's particularly fitting that his work be in the same institution that holds the archives of his peers."
The Briscoe Center has emerged as a premier repository for the archives of landmark photojournalists. The Adams archive joins those of a number of his colleagues already held at the center, including the work of 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly, Dirck Halstead, Wally McNamee, Diana Walker, Dick Swanson, Flip Schulke, and Cynthia Johnson.
"We were all colleagues, that's what's so great about having our archives together at UT," Kennerly told News Photographer magazine. "It was Alyssa's call, but when she realized that Dirck and Diana and the others all have their archives here, and that we were all kind of contemporaires, she thought it would be a great place for Eddie's archive. Wally, Flip, Cynthia ... we were pretty much the top magazine photographers who were working for Time and Newsweek from the mid-1970s through the 1980s, sort of the last 'good old days' of photojournalism, and Eddie certainly was the premier player in that group."
Kennerly reflected, "This really kind of unites us again, here at UT ... I'm really happy about that."
“The Eddie Adams Photographic Archive is one of the most important collection gifts ever made to the Briscoe Center," Carleton said. “It is a monumental addition to the photojournalism component of our news media archive. Adams was a hugely influential photographer and journalist, whose body of work would be remarkable for its visual impact alone. But more important, his work had the power to shape the course of history. I cannot overstate the degree to which this donation enhances our already impressive photographic and news media holdings.”
Adams' archive measures 200 linear feet in size, the center said today, and it includes slides, negatives, prints, audio and video materials, diaries, notes and tear sheets, and news stories. In addition to his Vietnam work, the collection includes his photographs of poverty in America, the homeless, Mother Teresa, Brazil, alternative society, anti-war demonstrations, and riots. Adams also shot portraits of world leaders, including President Ronald Reagan, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Clint Eastwood, Bette Davis, Bill Cosby, and Jerry Lewis.
The photographer worked extensively with Lewis each year to shoot a picture for the annual Labor Day weekend Parade magazine cover that highlighted the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Foundation telethon. Adams once told News Photographer magazine that his Parade magazine covers of "Jerry's Kids" were among the most satisfying photographs of his career, even though his peers were more likely to recognize the photographer for his high-profile images of news, combat, and celebrities.
Picking up a camera as a high school student in Kensington, PA, Adams went on to become a U.S. Marine Corps combat photographer during the Korean War. In 1962 he joined the staff of the Associated Press, and after a decade he left the wire service for Time magazine and to freelance. In 1976 he rejoined AP and was the first and only photographer to hold the title of "special correspondent." From 1980 until his death, he was a photographer for Parade magazine and his pictures graced more than 350 Parade covers.
During his time in Vietnam for AP, Adams went on more than 150 field operations. He also documented wars in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Portugal, Ireland, Lebanon, and Kuwait during his career. A lifetime of recognition for his work added up to more than 500 awards, including the George Polk Award for News Photography in 1968, 1977, and 1978, the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1977, and multiple honors from the National Press Photographers Association, World Press Photo, the Overseas Press Club, and Sigma Delta Chi, in addition to the 1969 Pulitzer Prize.
"Eddie Adams was a photojournalist of immense talent," UT president Powers said. "His collection gives the university another invaluable resource to advance our understanding of twentieth century American history and photojournalism. We are grateful to Alyssa Adams for this gift of such power and significance."
An exhibit of Adams' photographs will be on display at the Briscoe Center's Sid Richardson Hall until January 16, 2010, and on October 28, 2009, the center will host a screening of "An Unlikely Weapon," a documentary film that examines Adams' life. Showing at the Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas at Austin campus, the film is free and open to the public. The movie was made by filmmaker Susan Morgan Cooper along with the photographer's sister-in-law, Cindy Lou Adkins. After the screening, remarks are scheduled to be made by Alyssa Adams along with Kennerly.
In addition to his own photographs, Adams made another major contribution to photojournalism by founding and hosting the Eddie Adams Workshop, now in its 22nd year. "The Barnstorm" as it's known, because it's held in a renovated barn Adams purchased in Jeffersonville, NY, annually hosts 100 carefully selected students for an intense four-day gathering of the professions top professionals. The workshop is free for the students, who are picked on the basis of their portfolios, and the event is sponsored by Nikon Inc. This year's 2009 Barnstorm Workshop is scheduled for October 9 through 12.