By Laurence Lerman / New York City
One of the most fearless photographers of the Vietnam War, Tim Page was a dedicated photog who was wounded four times in the field before he was 25 while snapping pictures with his trusted Leica M camera.
Page covered the war regularly from 1965 to 1970, his work appearing in Time and Life magazines, Paris Match and by wire for the news agencies Associated Press and UPI. His photos provided Americans and people around the world with their first and often most powerful perceptions of what was going on in the war zone of that most controversial of conflicts.
Page died on Wednesday, August 24, from liver cancer at his home in New South Wales, Australia. He was 78.
Kent, Britain-born Page, a free-spirited, bigger-than-life character who left his home at the age of 17 in search of adventure, found freelance work with UPI in early 1965. He quickly made waves with the raw and dangerous photographs he took of an attempted coup in Laos, sterling examples of a photographer getting up-close-and-personal with the dangers of battle. Equally powerful were his non-combat pictures of young GI’s coping with the terrifying world into which they had been thrust when sent to war in Southeast Asia.
Page, the inspiration for the drug-addled, unhinged photojournalist portrayed by the equally drug-addled, unhinged actor Dennis Hopper in Francis Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, was also as involved in nearly as many crazed incidents outside of his Vietnam experiences.
Many of the other themes featured in Page’s work were drawn from the drug-fueled world of rock’n’roll and hippies, wherein he often traveled with and provided pictures for the work of legendary “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson. These photos appeared in such outlets as the then-counter-culture magazine Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy.
One such event found him arrested for disturbing the peace alongside Jim Morrison of The Doors during a riotous Doors concert in New Haven, Conn. in 1967. (He was released the next day). Other times, when he was working alongside the famously chemically altered Thompson, he would begin his day by gulping down a glass of vodka, an orange and “a handful of pills of various colors—I’ve no idea what they were,” as he told Time in 2013.
Page photographed other wars and happenings over the course of his career—his handling of the Six Day War in the Middle East in 1967 was highly lauded—but he remained best known for his Vietnam portfolio. That reputation was cemented over subsequent decades with the publication of various Vietnam collections. Among them are Tim Page’s Nam (1983), The Vietnam War: An Eyewitness History (1992), and NAM: The Vietnam Experience (1995)
One of the most highly regarded books was Requiem, a 1997 collection of pictures by 135 photographers from all sides of the conflict who had been killed in various Southeast Asian wars. Requiem was co-written by his fellow photographer Horst Faas and Page thought it be one of his most vital works. Requiem has since been put on permanent display in the Warm Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
“You don’t think of any of those political or cultural issues—you’re out there confronted with whatever horror is going on, so just get on with the job and find the best frame you can,” Page told Time in 2013. “Perhaps that’s why war photography is so strong, because there are no political considerations. You are presented with the rawest of reality in front of you.”
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.