Prize Photo Deconstruction


“Terror of War” by Huynh Cong “Nick” Út in 1972, in Trảng Bàng during the Vietnamese war

The “Terror of War” or also known as the “Napalm Girl” was photographed by Huynh Cong “Nick” Út in 1972, in Trảng Bàng during the Vietnamese war. The Vietnam war was part of the USA’s containment plan in Asia: they wanted to stop the spread of communism in Asia in fear that it would start a chain reaction, it killed more than “3 million people (including over 58,000 Americans)” ( editors, 2020) and “half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians” ( editors, 2020). The subjects in the photograph are young children from the village of Trảng Bàng and Vietnamese soldiers. We can see children screaming and running away from a bomb that is seen in the backdrop of the photo. Soldiers can be seen in the middle ground, near some of the children. The composition itself felt well established in a sense of chaos, it gives us an insight into the historical context of what is happening. We can infer by this photo that the children are being hurt in the war. 

In the picture, we see a contrast between the children and the soldiers, not only through the darker shades on the subjects but also by their expressions. The soldiers seem to be unfazed by the trauma that is inflicted upon the village, while the children from the village are seen to be in torment and fear. Our focus is immediately drawn to a young female child running from the smoke, naked. The soldiers whose sole purpose is to protect are just escorting these young children down a road, without any actual care of any well-being. Upon investigation, her body had “third-degree burns” (Martin, 2019).

The focal point of this photo is the shouting young naked female child in pain with her arms extended out from her body. This visual represents how a child would scream and cry in pain after getting hurt, and run for their mother. In this picture, however, there is no mother, as the war has taken that away from her. Her childhood and innocence are lost forever because of the war. She, alongside, other children are running right towards the camera, this visual allows us to see how they want help. We can infer that the photo is taken at a higher angle, as the shot is from over the subjects. The angle at which this photo was taken makes children look powerless and innocent. 

The photo is in black and white, which allows us to focus on the subjects rather than on color. This distinction gives powerful meaning to the photo because it allows seeing all the elements rather than the ones which would have only had color. The picture itself is framed through the subjects, by this I mean that subject makes the frame. The composition allows us to see movement. An example of this is seen in the foreground through the boy’s hand. While the picture itself has a clear intent which is to provoke a sense of sadness and guilt. It personally does not seem to be balanced, the left side of the photo has alot more subjects compared to the right.

The photograph’s visual aspects direct us to understand the historical context of what is going on. It clear and intentional by the photographer what he wants to show. He wants to show, pain, fear, innocence, and war. These aspects are visible in the photo. 


Freeman, M. (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos (1st ed.). Focal Press. Editors. (2020, August 19). Vietnam war. History.,of%20U.S.%20forces%20in%201973

M. (2020, November 14). Story behind the terror of war: Nick ut’s “napalm girl” (1972). About Photography Blog.

Williams, R. (2015). Non-Designer’s design book (4th ed.). Peachpit Press. 


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