With his signature hat, ponytail and unassuming disposition, one might not realize that photographer Eddie Adams covered 13 wars, beginning with a stint as a Marine Corps combat photographer in Korea in the early 1950s and ending in Kuwait in 1991.
He did three tours of Vietnam with the Associated Press and won the Pulitzer Prize for photography for his shot of a Viet Cong lieutenant being executed at close range on a Saigon street by a South Vietnamese general. In his more than five decades as a working photographer, Adams received more than 500 awards honoring his work, including World Press, New York Press, National Headliners and Sigma Delta Chi Awards. He said he likes getting them; that they’re nice. But he didn’t display them. He didn’t display that famous photo from Vietnam, either. If he’d had his way, that photo would never be released for publication again.
Adams photographed some of the most celebrated people in the world: Ronald Reagan, Fidel Castro, whom he liked, and Pope John Paul II; Jerry Lewis, Clint Eastwood and Bette Davis; Big Bird and Mickey Mouse. All of them, and many more, have looked into Adams’ lens. He remains one of the most published photographers in the U.S., with his work gracing the pages of newspapers and magazines like TIME, VOGUE, VANITY FAIR and PARADE. His career spanned journalism, corporate, editorial, fashion, entertainment and advertising photography. He photographed leaders in all fields, from politics to the superstars of film, television, sports and high fashion. His portfolio includes one-on-one sessions with seven U.S. Presidents and sixty-five Heads of State.
“Eddie’s genius is his talent for capturing tension in every photo, whether it be the still of a murder or the animation in the eyes of a movie star,” says PARADE Chairman Walter Anderson. “He is eclectic, incomparable and cantankerous. He is unyielding in the pursuit of excellence.”
It’s not the war photos or the celebrity photos or the awards that define what’s most important about Adams’ work. It’s the photos that have moved and inspired people to do good; the photos that have led to important change in government policy and people’s lives. He was proud of his 1979 shot “Boat of No Smiles,” depicting 50 Vietnamese on a 30-foot fishing boat fleeing their homeland. It was such a dire time for them, not even the children on board could find pleasure in a boat ride. It was Adams’ photo of these “boat people” that ultimately led Congress and President Jimmy Carter to open the door to the U.S. to more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees.
In 1995, Adams created a photo essay for PARADE of some of “the most amazing, most beautiful children in America.” One image — that of a 3-year-old with leukemia, who was photographed with her security blanket — moved one woman so much that she started an organization. Project Linus, founded by Karen Loucks, is a non-profit that provides security blankets to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need through the gifts of blankets and afghans created by volunteers. Today, there are more than 300 chapters of Project Linus in the U.S. and abroad.
Adams began his photography career as a high school student in Kensington, Pa., shooting weddings and other events for $20. He eventually got a job with the New Kensington Daily Dispatch. From there, he went to the Enquirer & News in Battle Creek, Mich., and the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. In 1962, he joined the Associated Press. After a decade, Adams left the AP for TIME magazine and freelance work. He rejoined the AP in 1976, where he was the first and only photographer to hold the title of special correspondent. In 1980, Adams became a PARADE magazine photographer and, from 1982-2004, was a special correspondent to PARADE, which has featured more than 350 of Adams’ photos on its cover over the years.
Eddie Adams passed away on September 19, 2004. His legacy continues in the annual photojournalism workshop, Barnstorm: The Eddie Adams Workshop, which he created in 1988, and is still running strong today.