Philip Jones-Griffiths' brutal and shocking documentation of the horrors of the Vietnam War that was crucial in changing public perceptions of the conflict
"The ability to keep things in perspective is very important for a journalist. In a tense situation you need the ability to be there, yet somehow step aside; to keep a cool head and keep working without getting frustrated"
- Philip Jones Griffiths
Born in Rhuddlan, Wales, Philip Jones Griffiths studied pharmacy in Liverpool and worked in London while photographing part-time for the Manchester Guardian. In 1961, he became a full-time freelancer for the London-based Observer. He covered the Algerian War in 1962, then moved to Central Africa. From there he moved to Asia, photographing in Vietnam from 1966 to 1971.
His book on the war, Vietnam Inc., crystallized public opinion and gave form to Western misgivings about American involvement in Vietnam. One of the most detailed surveys of any conflict, Vietnam Inc. is also an in-depth document of Vietnamese culture under attack.
An associate member of Magnum since 1966, Griffiths became a member in 1971. In 1973, he covered the Yom Kippur War and then worked in Cambodia between 1973 and 1975. In 1977, he covered Asia from his base in Thailand. In 1980, Griffiths moved to New York to assume the presidency of Magnum, a post he held for a record five years.
Griffiths’ assignments, often self-engineered, took him to more than 120 countries. He continued to work for major publications such as Life and Geo on stories such as Buddhism in Cambodia, droughts in India, poverty in Texas, the re-greening of Vietnam, and the legacy of the Gulf War in Kuwait. His continued revisiting of Vietnam, examining the legacy of the war, lead to his two further books Agent Orange and Vietnam at Peace.
Griffiths’ work reflects on the unequal relationship between technology and humanity, summed up in his book Dark Odyssey. Human foolishness always attracted Griffiths’ eye, but, faithful to the ethics of the Magnum founders, he believed in human dignity and in the capacity for improvement
Philip Jones Griffiths died at home in West London on 19th March 2008.