Legendary war photographer Tim Page dies aged 78

Comments Comments

Legendary British-Australian war photographer Tim Page, whose iconic images helped define the Vietnam war, has died of liver cancer at his home in NSW. He was 78. 

Born in 1944 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Page's photos and larger-than-life personality exemplified the extremes and excesses of war and its counterculture in the 1960s.

In the book Dispatches, author Michael Herr described Page as the most "extravagant" of the "wigged-out crazies running around Vietnam". His personality was part of the inspiration for the character of the journalist played by Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.

A helicopter taking off from a clearing near a U.S. Special Forces camp in central Vietnam after being ambushed.Credit...Tim Page/Corbis via Getty Images
A helicopter taking off from a clearing near a U.S. Special Forces camp in central Vietnam after being ambushed. Credit: Tim Page/Corbis via Getty Images

Leaving England in 1962, Page made his way overland, driving through Europe, Pakistan, India, Burma, and Thailand, before settling in Laos. He began work as a press photographer in the country, stringing for UPI and AFP, having taught himself photography.

Speaking to New Zealand Geographic in 2018, he said it was his photographs of the attempted coup in Laos that got him his first job with UPI.

"I’d ridden through machine gun fire to get the pictures out," he said. 

"They got world play and I was offered a job on the back of that in Vietnam for 90 bucks a week. I hadn’t worked for a month or so and it was perfect timing. It sounds ridiculous now, but then you needed 100 bucks a month to live and that included sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll."

Tim Page in Cambodia, 2009. Image: Paxse/Creative Commons.
Tim Page in Cambodia, 2009. Image: Paxse/Creative Commons.

Through the staff position in the Saigon bureau of the news agency, Page worked as a freelance accredited press photographer in Vietnam and Cambodia during the 1960s, where he was able to capture many of his most iconic images.

During this time he developed a reputation as a photographer who would 'go anywhere, fly in anything, snap the shutter under any conditions, and when hit go at it again in bandages," wrote Sanford Wexler in The Vietnam War: An Eyewitness History. This unwavering approach and his raw, intimate images were the result of multiple near death experiences.

Page was injured four times, struck by shrapnel in the legs and stomach in 1965; again receiving shrapnel wounds during Buddhist protests in 1966, and in August 1966 in the South China sea, he was on board the Coast Guard cutter Point Welcome, when it was mistaken for a Viet Cong vessel. U.S. Air Force pilots strafed the ship, leaving Page adrift at sea with serious wounds. 

His most serious injury occurred in 1969. According to Dispatches, Page jumped out of a helicopter to help load wounded soldiers. At the same time, a sergeant stepped on a mine close by, sending a two-inch piece of shrapnel into Page's head. He was pronounced dead at a military hospital, was revived, then died and was revived again. The injury led to a year in the United States undergoing neuro-surgery. 

These near-death experiences helped shape an indifferent attitude to the value of his own life, but he was also the first to admit he was captivated by the excitement and glamour of war.

However in time, he would also become reflective and articulate about the personal cost of conflict. 

“I don’t think anybody who goes through anything like war ever comes out intact,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2010.

After the war ended, Page worked as a freelance photographer for music magazines such as Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone, but his commitment to Vietnam and Cambodia never wavered - he spent much of his time in the 1970s and 80s trying to find the whereabouts of his friend and fellow photographer Sean Flynn, who was captured in Cambodia in the 1970s and never found. Flynn's personal Leica M2 camera resurfaced in 2018, with Page instrumental in identifying it. 

His dedication to journalists in South East Asia led Page to found the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation in 1991, in memory of journalists who died covering all sides of the Indochina conflicts from 1945 to 1975.

Page would go on to publish a dozen books, including two memoirs. His most notable was “Requiem,” a collection of images by photographers on all sides who had been killed in the various Indochina wars. The collection of photos from the book was put on permanent display in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

He returned regularly to Vietnam after the war to shoot assignments, and also covered conflict in East Timor and the Solomon Islands before settling near Brisbane where he served as an Adjunct Professor of Photojournalism at Griffith University.

In 2011, floods in Brisbane threatened his archive of more than 750,000 images, including most of his printed copies of Life magazine. At the time, he described himself as “a grumpy old man nearing the end of it all."

Despite his candour, at the time of his cancer diagnosis in May Page was working on two more books as well as an archive of his photographs from his home in NSW.

Tim Page is survived by his son Kit and long-time partner, Marianne Harris.

You can see a selection of Tim Page's work on his website. 

comments powered by Disqus