War Dialling: Image Transmissions from Saigon

Mythologizing the Vietnam War: Visual Culture and Mediated Memory. Eds. Good, Jennifer, et al. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.

On June 8, 1972 the mechanical drum of a Muirhead K220 Picture Transmitter slowly rotated, scouring the surface of a 5 x 7 inch black and white photograph that had just been placed on its scanning drum. The machine’s photoelectric cell was charged with the task of converting variations in the amount of light reflected by the print into a series of electronic pulses that could be transmitted, line-by-line, over a standard telephone relay system. As the photograph revolved around the drum of the machine, the trace of another incandescent emerged: the residual glow of a napalm fireball that had just scorched the South Vietnamese village of Trang Bang, 30 miles north-west of Saigon. An air strike by two South Vietnamese Skyraiders from the South Vietnamese Army 25th Division had erroneously levelled the village in an attempt to dislodge a recent North Vietnamese roadblock on Route 1 near Tran Bang. The anguish of Phan Thị Kim Phúc as she runs naked towards the camera of press corps photographer Nick Ut (Huỳnh Công Út) along with other members of her family and villagers has been permanently seared into our collective cultural memory.

Listen to the Muirhead transmitting an image