Eddie Adams Revealed in "An Unlikely Weapon"

It's a good time for photographers in film. Annie Leibovitz's doppelganger recently made a cameo in Watchmen, while Guest of Cindy Sherman shed light on the reclusive talent (read more here). Now, Eddie Adams is the subject of An Unlikely Weapon, the fascinating documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper (and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland) that premieres today in New York.

Adams is best known for taking the above iconic photograph from the Vietnam War of General Loan shooting a suspected member of the Vietcong. Many people credit the photograph as the turning point in public support for the war.

It's always fascinating to learn the back-story for such an important image, and An Unlikely Weapon certainly fulfills this natural interest (for example, we learn that Adams's reaction to the gunshot was so fast that, in the photo, the bullet hasn't even left the prisoner's head yet). But in the case of Eddie Adams, the real story worth noting starts after the picture was made. Adams was not terribly proud of his acclaimed photograph.

It is natural to assume that war is disturbing for photojournalists (and Eddie Adams photographed 13 of them), but the picture of General Loan haunted Adams until he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2004. He didn’t like how the image apparently changed the direction of the war; he meant to document, not alter. Adams also felt as if the image passed judgment on General Loan’s actions, which thus translated into widespread and lifelong public distaste for Loan. It is difficult for the viewer to understand this sympathy with the General, but it’s fascinating to hear Adams express it. In fact, the photographer visited Loan later in life when he was working in a pizza parlor. The documentary includes footage of the scrappy Loan behind a register—quite the sight.

But the film is not just about this one image; rather, it highlights how the reaction to it influenced Adams’s career path. It is implied that Adams transitioned into celebrity photography because it resonated less in society. And Adams himself repeatedly expresses how he is rarely satisfied with his work. In fact, he didn’t think the Loan image was a particularly good picture—perhaps the greatest reason for his aversion to its celebration.

The film features interviews with notable photographers and newsmen, including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, David Hume Kennerly, Sam Garcia, and Bill Eppridge. Though it is currently playing in New York, the film will have a platform release in various cities over the next few months (visit the film's site to learn more about times and locations). And be sure to check out the trailer below.