Kyoichi Sawada

After graduating from Aomori Prefectural High School, Kyoichi Sawada (Aomori City, Japan 1936 - Cambodia 1970) worked in a photography store on the US military base at Misawa, while studying photography. In 1961, he moved to Tokyo, where he became a photographer for the Tokyo branch of the news agency United Press International (UPI), after having been introduced by one of the American military officials at the air base. As the Vietnam War escalated, Sawada, repeatedly, asked UPI for a transfer to Indochina, but was denied on the grounds that the war was an ‘American conflict’. In February 1965, he used his vacation to go to Vietnam and cover the conflict on his own. His photos convinced UPI to assign him to their bureau in Saigon. Within the same year, he won the World Press Photo of the Year Award, the Pulitzer Prize, an Overseas Press Club award, and the US Camera Achievement Award for his photograph of the Vietnamese family fleeing bombardment by swimming across a river. In 1968, UPI assigned Sawada to their bureau in Hong Kong, where he became a picture editor. But Sawada was not much suited to desk work, and he returned to Vietnam regularly, as the war expanded into Laos and Cambodia. In March 1970, he began to document the situation in Cambodia, following a coup d'état, which plunged the country into chaos. On 26 October of the same year, Sawada volunteered to take the new UPI bureau chief in Phnom Penh, Frank Frosch, on trip down Cambodia’s Route 2 to Chambak, the Cambodian army’s most southern outpost. Time magazine reported on 9 November 1970: ‘at about 5:30 that afternoon, Cambodian soldiers heard gunfire and set out to investigate. They found the blue car riddled with bullets and smashed against a tree. The next morning the bodies of Frosch and Sawada were found. They had been savagely beaten in the neck and head, then shot repeatedly in the chest. No bloodstains were found in the car, indicating the execution had been performed after the crash.’ According to Time magazine, Sawada had been one of the most daring photographers working for UPI in Indochina. He appeared willing to do anything for a story, hitching rides on helicopters to the heart of the battle, and inviting ‘reprimands by darting through a minefield to get pictures of American troops’. Others described him as a cautious man, who calculated his risks carefully and always wore a helmet. After his death, he received the Robert Capa Gold Medal of the Overseas Press Club. Kyoichi Sawada was of one of c. 50 Japanese photographers who went to Indochina to cover the war. After the Second World War, Japanese media had focused almost exclusively on domestic news. The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, though, stimulated public interest in the world outside Japan, and more Japanese journalists got interested to cover international events.