“Napalm Girl” at 50: On Photojournalism and the Ethics of Care
From the moment of its publication in 1972, the prize-winning photograph “Napalm Girl/Terror of War” was recognized as newsworthy because it exemplified contemporary news values. It has since acquired legendary status as the defining image of the Vietnam War. Scholarly analyses have focused on the impact of the photograph on audiences as well as the moral imperatives of the image. However, the ethical complexities of the image’s implications have not been adequately explored. In this article, I analyze the photo’s implications for the subject of the photograph, Kim Phúc Phan Thi, the photographer Nick Ut, and the dynamics of power at work in the representation of the young girl’s embodied vulnerability. I argue that conventional news values elide these issues, and I call for incorporating a feminist ethics of care into photojournalistic decision-making that would engage and contextualize the interrelationships of photographer, subject, image, and audience, with a view to recognizing the identity positions and distributions of power at work in news photographs of embodied vulnerability.