AN APPRECIATION: Horst Fass, The Photographer, My Friend

Horst Fass


Horst Faas, Eddie Adams, and Michel Laurent were colleagues and competitive photographers.

Horst Faas was a good, very good, photographer. As a matter of fact all were fantastic friends also.

Tough on his cameras, tough on his assistants who had been hired by him all around the world. But he was a gentleman photographer.

He was born 79 years ago in Germany, and grew up during World War II. As a teenager, Faas was compelled to join the Hitler Youth–like all the male children and in 1945 all his familhy fled to Berlin and later to Munich in West Germany.

At age 15 Faas tried to be a musician, played the drum in a band. When he got to be 23-24, learned in photography, he joined with the Associated Press and was sent to the Congo and later to North Africa to cover the troubles in Algeria.

Horst was a dear friend to me. We did many assignments together. We had a grand time in Munich during the 1972 Olympics but when the Israeli athletes’ compound was attacked by several Palestinian gunmen he was one of the first photographers to record the events. He was assisted by another German photographer, Kurt Strumph who also got some of the greatest pictures of the Munich Massacre story. Assistant photo editor Marina Spickermann and I were returning to the office around 7 a.m. when we decided to skip breakfast, as the queue was too long, and passing by the AP office, I heard one of our telephones ringing. I ran inside, picked it up but the speaker was breathless and my German not being perfect, I passed the telephone to Marina. She lost  the color on her face and seemed in shock. She signaled me and we rushed to wake up all our AP staff, photographers and newsmen alike.

I edited that picture shot by Kurt of the gunman on the balcony with his face covered by a mask and many other images from ensuing events.

At the end of the Munich Olympics, I was ordered to visit the New York headquarters of the AP to give a first hand report.

During the first years of the Lebanese 15-year civil strife, Faas visited Beirut several times to study and help us cover the events and many a time he kept on advising me about events that hed to be covered and how.

He never missed a day and when he left, all of us, including the stringer photographers, took a long breath. We relaxed.

Horst was friends with all of us, the photographers who covered events around the world. When I was editing photos of the Festivities of Persepolis in Iran, which were organized by the late Shah Pahlavi, Horst’s ideas were most welcome. When I was shooting photographs in East Pakistan, now Bengladesh, cyclone of 1970, his knowledge of the Far East was a great help to me. The estimated death toll was one million.

Both Eddie Adams and Horst Faas were awarded Pulitzer prizes, Eddie one, and Horst two for their photography. Eddie died in September 18 of 2004 of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Hal Buell, who was our Executive Photo Editor described Faas during an interview with NPR, “A man who possessed great courage, which he displayed on the battlefield and in the later years of his life when he was paralyzed. Horst possessed a great sense of humor. He put together an operation in Vietnam that resulted in coverage of a war that I believe has never been photographed in that way. I do not believe any one in the future will ever be photographed the way Vietnam was covered.”

Horst was hospitalized first in Bangkok and then in Germany, where doctors traced his permanent paralysis from the waist down to a spinal hemorrhage caused by blood-thinning heart medication.

And then there was the youngest photographer, Frenchman Michel Laurent. Michel was sent to Amman, Jordan, during the Palestinian revolt against the late King Hussein of Jordan, where he stayed over a month and his pictures of action and victims won him fame and prestige.

When AP, at my suggestion, decided to get him out, the only way he could leave was aboard an International Red Cross DC3, which was loaded with injured people. It was then that Michel produced his best work of capturing the wounded in the hot plane, tearing their bandages off to cool themselves. No flash was allowed and practically no light. He made use of the light-filtering in from the open windows of the plane.

Michel came to Beirut on vacation. It was Christmas week. My father cut the turkey and young Michel got the best part of the turkey’s leg when the phone rang. It was his young wife, Michele. She was reporting about the birth of their baby. He flew to France the next day. Later in 1971 Michel was covering the riots in Dacca, Bengladesh during which Bengalli guerrillas used bayonets to torture and kill four men suspected of collaborating with Pakistani militia. Both Fass and Laurent got a joint Pulitzer.

Horst Faas’s death is a great loss to press photographers and to the world press.


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  3. NU said:

    Harry – a heartfelt appreciation of Horst. We all miss him. Best, Ulevich.

  4. Michael Symanowski said:

    Great ode to a great person in press photography. And a review to a great time that regrettably is gone…

    I was shocked when reading about his death. I’m lucky to have shared some experiences with him…and the things he desired.

    Michael S.