The Magnificent One

If you don’t know who Philip Jones Griffiths is then now is the time to be enlightened. We lost him fairly recently, but thanks to people like Donna Ferrato we have something unique to remember him by. In short, PJG was a Welsh photographer known for his coverage of things like the Vietnam War. His views and experience in Vietnam were brilliantly captured in “Vietnam, Inc.” which was widely viewed as a publication that changed public opinion about the war.

The Magnificent One: Philip Jones Griffiths from donna ferrato on Vimeo.

I think the best way to describe him and his legacy is in this quote from his friend fellow photographer Henri Cartier Bresson.

“Not since Goya has anyone portrayed war like Philip Jones Griffiths.”

This film was created shortly before his death and is both incredibly personal and incredibly informative about the mind of the man who brought us this lasting photographic evidence. On a personal note, I met PJG during a political convention in downtown San Diego in the late 1990’s. I was walking alone along the fringes of the chaos, looked up and there he was. I introduced myself, explained what my goals were and he graciously gave me advice as if we had been friends forever. He stood, glasses on the end of his nose, towering above me with his arms crossed behind his back, and I instantly felt a respect of not only the human but the preciousness of what he was offering me. In my experience with photographers this is a somewhat rare occurrence. I’ve certainly never forgotten it, and I’ve also never forgotten the first time I opened “Vietnam, Inc.” and first glimpsed the legacy he left for all of us.

10 Responses to “The Magnificent One”

  1. You can almost describe my interface with Philip Jones Griffiths the same way you tell the story of yours. He and I talked for about 20 min. As far as advice on photography/life that was the best twenty min. Of the 90’s for me.

    He was a super funny, super intelligent man. And I got the sense that he was afraid of no man.

    I own two books of his: Vietnam Inc. and Dark Passages. Both are masterpieces. Vietnam Inc. is THE BEST photo book on the Vietnam war, by far.
    Philip Jones Griffiths was the last great master craftsman of photography. Rest in peace.

    • Smogranch says:

      EL,
      Yep, that book is grand as well. There are some serious publications in regard to Vietnam, so I’m hard pressed to declare one the best, but Vietnam, Inc. was perhaps as important as any ever done.

  2. LionelB says:

    Nothing could be more incongruous than that Chapel was termed ‘non-conformist’. It systematically stifled aspiration, curiosity, empowerment and jollity. We are all the richer for the fact that Jones-Griffiths took so strongly against it and showed us instead what genuine compassion looks like. To glimpse the claustrophobia of his youth, nowhere better than the poetry of the great Dylan Thomas.

    • Smogranch says:

      Lionel,
      Yes, it’s never easy to go against the tide, especially when Chapel is involved. He was obviously a passionate guy. I think you have to be close to madness to produce work like this. Possessed maybe.

    • Aguirre says:

      Well said, sir. When you live with PMP – passion, madness, possession – you are truly alive; living intimately with your soul; filling the mass of judgmental men with fear and wonder, while inspiring a select few to rise above their social conditioning.

    • Smogranch says:

      Aguirre,
      Fear works well too. I’ve made some good images wondering whether a check was going to bounce. I don’t want to do that again, but I learned my lesson.

  3. Jason Timmis says:

    Thanks for another interesting one (person) Dan. Yes, it would seem he was another one of the greats that was ‘close to the edge’ compared to the rest of us mortals.

    PS – I see the F6 made the new front page so you must be liking it…and hopefully you have shares in the battery brand you’re using :-)

  4. I’ve become enlightened. Thank you, Dan, for continuing my photographic education. It was a very quite Good Friday at my job, so I got the chance to watch this. Loved it. Thanks again. ~ Mark

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