Larry Burrows (1926-71)
For more about the early inventions upon which Burrows' camera art is founded, see: History of Photography (c.1800-1900).
Ranked among the greatest photographers by his peers, Larry Burrows was an English photojournalist best known for his photography of the Vietnam War. Arriving in Saigon with over 10 years experience of covering wars as a professional photographer for LIFE magazine, he achieved international recognition in 1963 for his landmark 14-page photo essay on the conflict. Unlike most photo reportage from the war at that time, this was in colour, which gave his message a brutal and jarring edge, entirely at odds from official accounts. Even more powerful and influential was his later photo-report, entitled "One Ride with Yankee Papa 13", which provided searing documentary photography of violent scenes aboard a US Marine helicopter during a combat mission. He also shot compelling images of "Operation Prairie", a US thrust against North Vietnamese army positions near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), (Aug-Oct 1966). After documenting the Vietnamese conflict for 9 years, Burrows himself was killed on February 10, 1971 when the helicopter in which he was flying was brought down by anti-aircraft fire near the border with Laos. Three other press photographers died with him - Henry Huet (aged 43) of Associated Press, Kent Potter (aged 23) of UPI and Keisaburo Shimamoto (aged 34) of Newsweek. A two-time recipient of the coveted Robert Capa Prize from the Overseas Press Club of America for his exceptional courage (1964, 1965), Burrows received awards for Magazine Photographer of the Year (1967) and British Press Picture of the Year (1967). His humanistic portrait art of distraught and damaged US soldiers, and his eye for moments like that depicted in his famous photograph entitled "Reaching Out", transform his images into the finest form of contemporary art. See also our biographies of award-winning photojournalists Don McCullin (b.1935), James Nachtwey (b.1948) and Steve McCurry (b.1950).
Important Photo: Four Marines rescue the body of their squad leader Leland Hammond while under fire near Hill 484 during Operation Prairie (1966). To the right is the French photojournalist Catherine Leroy. Photographed by Larry Burrows.
Born Henry Frank Leslie Burrows in London, the son of a railway worker, he leaves school at 13 and joins the graphic art department at the Daily Express. At 16 he moves to LIFE magazine - the most prestigious magazine of the day - where he does a variety of routine tasks for the photography laboratory. After a year of alternative national service in a Yorkshire coal mine, he rejoins LIFE where he is finally permitted to print some of the photos taken by LIFE's war correspondents, including images taken by the celebrated Robert Capa (1913-54), who was also killed in Vietnam. Burrows goes on to become a photographer with LIFE, taking portrait photographs of Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, and others, and reporting on numerous wars and insurgencies, including the Suez Crisis in 1956 (involving the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt) and the Belgian Congo war in 1960. From 1961 he settles in Hong Kong.
From 1962 until his death in 1971, Burrows photo reports on the Vietnam War, consistently putting himself in harm's way by accompanying US marine units, and in the process becoming one of the best known of his profession. His photos appear in numerous publications including Time magazine as well as LIFE. Although reassigned away from Vietnam on several occasions by his worried employers - to Japan in 1964 to cover the Tokyo Olympics; to Indonesia in 1965 for a wildlife report; to India in 1968, for the bicentennial of the East India Company; and to Calcutta in 1971 to photograph Mother Theresa - he always returns.
Burrows also makes full use of his two key advantages: first, he employs colour film whenever possible in order to enhance the details and colour variations he encounters; second, his assignment with LIFE frees him from deadlines and gives him more time to spend in the field, getting to know the soldiers and giving him greater photo opportunities. Thus his unique contribution to modern art, in the form of photo-collections that illustrate the impact of war on the human body and mind.
The recovered remains of Burrows, Huet, Potter and Shimamoto now repose in a stainless-steel box beneath the floor of the Newseum (Museum of News & Journalism) in Washington DC - part of a memorial gallery honoring journalists killed while on assignment.
1971 London (Royal Photographic Society)
In addition, photos by Larry Burrow have appeared in group shows at some of the best galleries of contemporary art in Europe and America.
For other famous lens-based artists noted for their documentary-style photography, please see the following forthcoming articles.
For more about war photographers, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHOTOGRAPHIC ART