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On Photography: Tim Page, 1944-2022

“The only good war photograph is an anti-war photograph.” -Tim Page

Tim Page covered the war in Vietnam, was a “gonzo photographer” tripping with and photographing hippies and rock n’ roll in the 70s.

Fearless photojournalist

Tim Page left his native England when he was 17. He wanted to see Europe. Before leaving he wrote a note, “Dear Parents, am leaving home for Europe or perhaps Navy and hence the world. Do not know how long I shall go for. You wouldn’t understand reasons for leaving but don’t contact authorities as I shall write periodically.”

His travels went beyond Europe to the Middle East, India, Nepal and ended in Laos. The Indochina war was just getting started. He freelanced for United Press International and earned a position with them with his photographs of a coup in Laos.

Vietnam

The next five years found Tim Page covering the Vietnam War for Time, LIFE, UPI, The Associated Press and Paris Match. He was wounded three times and sent home.

On Photography: Tim Page, 1944-2022
Tim Page in front of one of his photographs. Photo by: Stephen Dupont

Tim page took a break and went back to the Middle East where he covered the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. That December he was arrested along with Jim Morrison of The Doors for disturbing the peace at a concert in New Haven, Connecticut. He wrote about the event saying, “I danced about with my camera shooting the punch-out. An officer grabbed me and began beating me.” He was held in jail overnight.

Back to war

He defied the order out of Vietnam and returned. He was almost killed in April 1969 when he moved out of a helicopter to help wounded soldiers. A land mine detonated when a soldier stepped on it sending shrapnel into Tim Page. He died at a military hospital was revived then died again. He was revived a second time. He was sent to the U.S. where he recovered undergoing months of rehab and therapy. When he was well enough Tim Page picked up his cameras and went back to work.

Dispatches and Apocolypse Now

Michael Herr author of the Vietnam War book “Dispatches” (1977) wrote about Tim Page. Herr who wrote the screenplay for “Apocolypse Now” used Tim Page as the model for the photojournalist portrayed by Dennis Hopper in the Frances Ford Coppola classic movie.

Herr wrote to Tim Page vehemently calling out a publisher who wanted him to remove the glamour from the war.

“How the bloody hell can you do that?… War is good for you… It’s like trying to take the glamour out of sex. Trying to take the glamour out of the Rolling Stones,” Tim Page says in “Dispatches.”

“I don’t think anybody who goes through anything like war ever comes out intact,” Tim Page said in an interview with The New York Times in 2010.

In “The Vietnam War: An Eyewitness History” (1992), Sanford Wexler wrote, “Page was known as a photographer who would go anywhere, fly in anything, snap the shutter under any conditions, and when hit go at it again in bandages.”

Tim Page in his own words. 5-minute video.

Rock ‘n roll

During the 1970s, Tim Page photographed the drug-enhanced rock ‘n roll life. He used LSD. He covered the world of hippies and Vietnam vets. He worked for music magazines.

Vietnam visits

Tim Page went back to Vietnam and Southeast Asia many times. He photographed on assignments, ran workshops and recorded images of Agent Orange victims suffering from the carcinogenic defoliant sprayed by the American military to clear the jungles during the war.

On these trips, Tim Page searched in vain for two of his fellow Vietnam War photojournalists, Dana Stone and Sean Flynn (son of actor Errol Flynn) who were feared killed by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. They remain among the dead reporters from that war. He was haunted by that failure for the rest of his life.

United Nations

By 2009, Tim Page spent 5 months as a ‘photographic peace ambassador” in Afghanistan for the UN.

Tim Page covered conflicts in East Timor and the Solomon Islands. He finally settled in Brisbane, Australia where he was an adjunct professor at Griffith University.

Sources: The Sydney Morning Herald, CNN, The New York Times, NYT Obituary.

Read more about inspirational photographers in On Photography.


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