Tim Page: Legendary Vietnam War photographer dies at 78


Photographer Tim Page, whose images and exploits from the Vietnam War made him a legendary figure of journalism in the 1960s, died Wednesday in Australia at the age of 78, fellow journalist Ben Bohane confirmed to CNN.

Page had cancer, according to Bohane, who said he spent Page’s last week with him at his home in New South Wales.

Page was one of a corps of young freelance journalists who would hop on US military helicopters, the iconic transportation of the Vietnam War, to reach some of the most intense action of the conflict.

Vietnam War photojournalist Tim Page visits the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in April 2015.

Vietnam War photojournalist Tim Page visits the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in April 2015. Credit: Le Quang Nhat/EPA/Shutterstock

“The Vietnam War was the first and last war where there was no censorship, the military actively encouraged press involvement and Page went everywhere, covering everything,” according to the photographer’s official website.

He was wounded four times, it says.

“The last time was when he jumped out of a helicopter to help load the wounded and the person in front of him stepped on a landmine. He was pronounced DOA (dead on arrival) at the hospital. He required extensive neuro-surgery and spent most of the seventies in recovery,” the website says.

Besides taking photographs that brought the war to newspapers and magazines around the world, Page was the inspiration for the photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper in the Vietnam War movie “Apocalypse Now.”

Michael Herr, the film’s screenwriter, also wrote about Page in his critically acclaimed 1977 book about the war, “Dispatches.”

Herr wrote that Page once railed against a publisher who had asked him to take the glamor out of war.

A battle weary soldier from the 173rd Airborne Division is helped across a wasteland in War Zone D, following the battle for Zulu Zulu. Vietnam, 1966, in this Tim Page photo.

A battle weary soldier from the 173rd Airborne Division is helped across a wasteland in War Zone D, following the battle for Zulu Zulu. Vietnam, 1966, in this Tim Page photo. Credit: Tim Page/Corbis/Getty Images

“How the bloody hell can you do that?… War is good for you… It’s like trying to take the glamour out of sex. Trying to take the glamour out of the Rolling Stones,” Page says in “Dispatches.”

Writing Page’s obituary for the Sydney Morning Herald, Bohane noted those quotes, and Page’s contradictory personality.

Page also said “the only good war photograph is an anti-war photograph,” Bohane wrote.

“He was a humanist, first and foremost, always alive to the power of photography and art to change perceptions and highlight the folly of war,” Bohane wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Bohane noted some of the other characters in Page’s life.

In Vietnam, his best friend was fellow photographer Sean Flynn, son of Hollywood icon Errol Flynn, who went missing in Cambodia in 1970. Bohane wrote that the loss of Flynn haunted Page for the rest of his life.

The US 173rd Airborne are supported by helicopters during the Iron Triangle assault in this Tim Page photo.

The US 173rd Airborne are supported by helicopters during the Iron Triangle assault in this Tim Page photo. Credit: Tim Page/Corbis/Getty Images

Page, along with Flynn, also helped convince Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers, US Defense Department documents that showed how the US government had deceived the American public about US actions in Vietnam and helped fuel the anti-war movement in the US, Bohane said.

And Page cooperated with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson on several articles for Rolling Stone. In 2013, Page told Time magazine about the influence Thompson had on him.

“(Thompson) was very intense. He’d take this handful of pills of various colors — I’ve no idea what they were — in the morning with a vodka and orange. If he offered me a handful of pills, I took the handful of pills as well. I was young and foolish back then,” Page told Time.

Tim Page photographed a stoned US soldier from the 9th Division at Tan An, Vietnam, in 1968.

Tim Page photographed a stoned US soldier from the 9th Division at Tan An, Vietnam, in 1968. Credit: Tim Page/Corbis/Getty Images

In that 2013 interview, Page talked about whether his war images glamorized conflict and if he was ever tempted to self-censor some of the horrors he documented.

“You don’t think of any of those political or cultural issues,” he said.

“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. 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.”

In his later years, Page, who was born in England, settled in Australia and there helped establish an Australian war photographers’ collective with Bohane to showcase and preserve the work of those who document conflict.

In an introduction on the collective’s blog, Page lamented how his profession had suffered in the modern world.

“Trying to document and publish these truths in the face of television, ‘lifestyle content’ and ether communications has only become more testing,” he said. “Yet, we remain — perhaps delusionally — dedicated to getting our images out and influencing the next generation of shooters to follow the same committed path.”

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