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Veteran war photographer David Hume Kennerly reflects on the impact of his craft


Pictures can make the unimaginable unforgettable. Much of the world saw images from some of the photojournalists who first got into Bucha, Ukraine, earlier this month and captured images of people who had been executed at close range, their hands tied and left in shallow graves. David Hume Kennerly is a veteran war photographer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and presidential photographer. He's put some of his reflections on his craft in an essay in The New York Times Sunday review section this weekend and joins us now. David, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: I should preface by saying that some of what we describe may disturb some listeners. You wrote that the photographs out of Bucha changed everything. How so?

KENNERLY: Well, I don't think people really focused on what was going on in Ukraine. They saw extraordinary pictures on one hand, but - like Lynsey Addario's photograph of the family that got blown up as they tried to enter Kyiv. And she almost got killed in the process. There was another incredible image two days after the Russians came into Ukraine of a Russian soldier in the snow dead, taken by Tyler Hicks. But Bucha - in the pictures of people who had been executed, their hands tied behind their back - I think made everybody stop in their tracks, and I think those images really could change the course of that war.

SIMON: What do you make of the Russian representation that those photos and many others like them were faked?

KENNERLY: For one thing, so many of the photographers who were there in Ukraine are people I know. They're - some of the world's best are there. They tell the truth. This is what our profession is about in the West. So it's not enforced integrity. I think all of us who've been in this business want to tell the truth. We're not messing around with the circumstances. And the Russians are just flat-out lying about all this stuff. There was one by Carol Guzy, and it's a picture that's looking into a body bag. And the person who is enclosed has his eye open. And it's a photograph that just makes you wonder, you know, is that person dead? And what did the person see right before he died? And I've never seen anything like that. And over and over and over we're witnessing, through the eyes of these great photographers, what's really going on there. And it ain't fake.

SIMON: You mentioned in The Times piece two photos from the war in Vietnam - Eddie Adams' Saigon Execution, showing a man being executed close range, shot in the head by South Vietnamese officials - and then Nick Ut's - painful even to remember it - Napalm Girl, a young girl fleeing covered with napalm. They were powerful in shaping the opinion of the world and, for that matter, the opinion of the United States - people in the United States about what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam. What do you think pictures can do?

KENNERLY: Well, pictures fly over the head of Russian disinformation specialists and right-wing pundits in America. And they're a messenger directly from the field. And if you're in Russia, No. 1, you're not going to see those pictures. And if you do, you're going to think they're not real. But they make you think. You sit down and think. When you see people with their hands tied behind their back who've been executed, when you see little kids crying because they lost their parents, it's a visceral feeling, really. I don't think photographers are trying to change the world, but their pictures really do if you care about what's going on in the world.

SIMON: The great veteran war photographer David Hume Kennerly, thank you so much for being with us.

KENNERLY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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