Nationality: Welsh | Born: 1936 - Died: 2008
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
Jones Griffiths was born in Rhuddlan, to Joseph Griffiths, who supervised the local trucking service of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and Catherine Jones, Rhuddlan's district nurse, who ran a small maternity clinic at home. He studied pharmacy in Liverpool and worked in London as the night manager at the Piccadilly branch of Boots, while also working as a part-time photographer for the Manchester Guardian. His first photograph was of a friend, taken with the family Brownie in a rowboat off Holyhead. Jones Griffiths never married, saying it was a "bourgeois" notion, but that he had had "significant" relationships. Survived by Fanella Ferrato and Katherine Holden, his daughters from long-term relationships with Donna Ferrato and Heather Holden. He died from cancer on March 19, 2008. Journalist John Pilger wrote in tribute to Griffiths soon after his death: "I never met a foreigner who cared as wisely for the Vietnamese, or about ordinary people everywhere under the heel of great power, as Philip Jones Griffiths. He was the greatest photographer and one of the finest journalists of my lifetime, and a humanitarian to match…. His photographs of ordinary people, from his beloved Wales to Vietnam and the shadows of Cambodia, make you realise who the true heroes are. He was one of them." Griffiths started work as a full-time freelance photographer in 1961 for the Observer, travelling to Algeria in 1962. He arrived in Vietnam in 1966, working for the Magnum agency. Magnum found his images difficult to sell to American magazines, as they concentrated on the suffering of the Vietnamese people and reflected his view of the war as an episode in the continuing decolonisation of former European possessions. However, he was eventually able to get a scoop that the American outlets liked: photographs of Jackie Kennedy vacationing with a male friend in Cambodia. The proceeds from these photos enabled him to continue his coverage of Vietnam and to publish Vietnam Inc. in 1971. Vietnam Inc. had a major influence on American perceptions of the war, and became a classic of photojournalism. The book was the result of Griffiths' three years work in the country and it stands as one of the most detailed surveys of any conflict, including descriptions of the horrors of the war as well as a study of Vietnamese rural life and views from serving American soldiers. Probably one of its most quoted passages is of a US army source discussing napalm: ‘We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot - if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene - now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter (white phosphorus) so’s to make it burn better. And just one drop is enough, it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.’ The South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, criticized Griffiths' work, remarking "Let me tell you there are many people I don't want back in my country, but I can assure you Mr. Griffiths name is at the top of the list." In 1973, Griffiths covered the Yom Kippur War. He then worked in Cambodia from 1973 to 1975. In 1980, he became the president of Magnum, a position he then held for five years. In 2001 Vietnam Inc. was reprinted with a foreword by Noam Chomsky. Subsequent books have included Dark Odyssey, a collection of his best pictures, and Agent Orange, dealing with the impact of the US defoliant Agent Orange on postwar generations in Vietnam. After becoming aware of his terminal condition, Jones Griffiths launched a foundation to preserve his archives. His daughters helm the foundation, which as of July 2008 lacked a permanent home.