An exhibition at London's TJ Boulting marks the 10 year anniversary of Magnum photographer, Philip Jones Griffith's death with two bodies of work; his coverage of the Vietnam War and his pictures of Britain taken between 1950 – 1970.
Born in Wales under the shadow of English castles, Philip Jones Griffiths held a lifelong affinity with the underdog. This is most evident in his coverage of the war in Vietnam, a country he grew to love and return to throughout his life. Upon setting foot on Vietnamese soil for the first time, he remarked "I found my village in Wales. In a Welsh village you're taught to keep quiet, to keep your eyes open, to listen, and not to give too much away. I felt that this was the ethic that the Vietnamese themselves lived by. I was fascinated by the fact that the most powerful nation on earth – with a military might never before seen – was being regularly hoodwinked by rice farmers."
The Magnum photographer who always hated being called a ‘war photographer', wasn't interested in macho action shots, he was interested in normal people and how war affected lives. He often turned away from the obvious, spending days waiting on his balcony to catch a Vietnamese woman pickpocketing an American GI, other images are “infused with his wry sense of humour”, such as his image of a soldier chatting with a young girl in rural Vietnam. His photos of Vietnamese conflict, first published in the acclaimed Vietnam INC (1971), were credited with helping shift public perception of the Vietnam war – particularly in the US. Speaking of the work years later, Noam Chomsky said: “If anybody in Washington had read that book, we wouldn’t have had these wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
His shots of Britain – drawn from 2008 publication Recollections – demonstrate Griffiths’ unparalleled ability as a poignant documenter of place and time. While the two bodies of works displayed are contrasting in their subject matter, they remain united through his unique curiosity in people and a belief in the power of visual storytelling.
At the start of Griffith's photography career, Dennis Hackett of the Observer, gave him valuable advice. "He said look, remember, who, what, why, where, when. Those are the five W's you've got to get right every time when you take a picture. That's what I want to see when I look at a picture. And the more I thought about it, I thought, you know, all of them are standard, but the one in the middle, the why, that is the one that interests me. Why. Call it simple curiosity; call it a search for the truth, call it whatever - but it's the Why, the middle W, that counted."
Philip Jones Griffiths – Ten Year Anniversary Exhibition is on show from 19 March-21 April 2018 at TJ Boulting.
Philip Jones Griffiths: Icons will run from 5 June-27 July 2018 at the Magnum Print Room.