Photos of Kim Phuc and Paris Hilton by Nick Ut

Back in June I noted that Nick Ut had taken the photo of Paris Hilton (above, right) exactly 35 years after the photo of Kim Phuc (above, left), to the day. Today I came across an article in the Telegraph (via Conscientious) which quotes Nick Ut comparing his relationship to the two photos:

It’s a strange feeling because I know I will never take another photograph that’s as good as this – not as long as I live. When I look at my photograph of Kim and my photograph of Paris Hilton, I think they are both good pictures, in their way. I suppose the big difference is that I grew to love Kim, whereas… well, frankly, I don’t give a damn about Paris Hilton.

Not too surprising, really, considering Ut saved Kim Phuc’s life, and to Paris Hilton he’s just another paparazzo. The Telegraph article uses the strange relationship between these two photos to illustrate changes in culture and the role of photography. The premise is that due to both market forces and government regulation, photographers are increasingly pushed towards a minute but distorted documentation of celebrities and away from realistic documentation of international conflicts. More Britney Spears, less Iraq war.

This reminds me a bit of the Nan Goldin exhibit up at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston right now. There’s a tension in her work between the intimate, gritty realities of chemical and sexual dependency, and stylistic tropes that transform these realities into fantasies. It feels as if she started out as a war photographer, throwing herself into dangerous, chaotic situations and documenting them; but has unwittingly become a servant to the pastime of voyeurism. But I guess the line between truth teller and entertainer has never been terribly clear.