AP photographer Nick Ut, who retired in 2017 after a 51-year career with The Associated Press, received the National Medal of Arts Jan. 13 at the White House.
He is the first journalist to receive the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the federal government.
The National Medal of Arts is awarded by the President of the United States to individuals or groups who are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the U.S.
Ut, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, is known best for his iconic “Terror of War” picture from the Vietnam War, an image captured in 1972 that helped heighten awareness of the conflict. He was 21 years old when he took the shocking photo of terrified 9-year-old Kim Phuc running down a country road, her body burning from napalm bombs dropped on her village.
Immediately after taking the shot, Ut put down his camera and rushed Phuc to a hospital, where doctors saved her life.
In 1989, Ut and Phuc were reunited in Havana, where Phuc was in medical school. In the years since, the two have become close friends.
Ut was hired by AP in Saigon in March 1966. He replaced his older brother, Huynh Thanh My, who had been working as a photographer with AP and was killed by the Viet Cong in 1965. My was a gifted photographer and had already taught Nick how to use a camera.
After working in Vietnam, Ut did a stint at AP’s Tokyo bureau before relocating to Los Angeles in 1977. There, he shot a wide variety of stories, from earthquakes to fires to celebrities to business to crime until his retirement from AP in 2017.
Ut has won numerous prizes for his pictures, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for Spot Photography — the youngest photographer to win the award — and the World Press Photo Award the same year, all for his photo of the young Kim Phuc. In June 2016, Ut received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Press Club, and Kim Phuc was by his side.
The Associated Press boasts a legacy of iconic photojournalism. The news agency has won 32 Pulitzer Prizes for photography, more than any other news organization.