An AP reporter who worked with the photographer who took the iconic image of the "Napalm girl" has spoken out about this week's "gut-wrenching" image of drowned migrants and the possible impact the photo could make.

On Twitter, reporter Anthony Breznican revealed he believes the world has to "face the horror" of the recent photo of a father and daughter who drowned trying to get to the US and hopes it will make significant change like the "Napalm girl" image did.

Breznican wrote about the first time he worked with AP photographer Nick Ut in summer 1999. He didn't realise who he was at the time, but after he found out, it changed the way he saw photographs and the impact they can make.

"One of my first assignments was to go out to freeway gas stations and interview truckers about some new fuel efficiency regulation.

Advertisement

"I was paired with an @AP photographer. He was a middle-aged Vietnamese man who had a thick accent and a cheerful, kid-like demeanour.

"The assignment, he told me, was 'boring', but nonetheless he shot beautiful, artful images of the truckers I interviewed."

When Breznican got back to the office they asked what he thought of Ut.

Bemused by the question he said he was "cool" and a "nice guy", which is when Breznican received an odd look.

"The older reporter just stared at me. 'You know who he is, right?'

"I got the sense I should know, but I didn't. Obviously.

"The older reporter pointed toward the wall between the reporters' pen and the photo department. This image hung there. 'Nick took that'."

The photo was the iconic Napalm girl.

Advertisement

It shows a South Vietnamese-born Canadian, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, at 9 years of age running naked on a road after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack during the 1972 Vietnam War.

Breznican goes on to explain that the photo changed America's view of their involvement in the Vietnam War and he got to know more about the photo while working with Ut.

"I got to know Nick well in the years I was with @AP. I learned that after he took that horrific photo, he wrapped the girl in a blanket and drove her to the hospital.

"He saved her life. Who knows how many lives the photo ultimately saved."

Breznican said he shared this story as it got him thinking about the "horrible and upsetting" photo taken by reporter Julia Le Duc of a father and daughter who drowned trying to enter the US from El Salvador.

"I wanted to share it, even though it's horrible and upsetting. It's awful and gut-wrenching to see, but it feels worse to look away.

"An image can open your eyes, especially the kind that makes you want to close them."

He said the photo spread worldwide after AP shared it, just as it did with Ut's image from Trang Bang in 1972.

"Both are about the most nightmarish things I can imagine."

Breznican wrote that Ut's photo made people stop and ask a simple question: 'What are we doing?' and hopes Le Duc's photo will make us ask the same thing.

"That will only happen if we face it.

"I don't want to ever see this again. But we will, unless we change and stop needlessly turning away people who are begging us for help.

"We can help. We choose to scapegoat instead.

"What kind of country attacks those fleeing violence and bloodshed? What kind of people?

"Even those of us who didn't vote for this cruel psychotic in the White House — what are we going to do?

"I don't know. I wish I did.

"Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria wouldn't have attempted that river crossing if we had a sane and moral asylum policy."

Breznican believes that the US has made is near impossible for people to seek asylum.

"We have separated families that do legally apply for asylum, and stash children in nauseating camps.

"We betray those who believed: 'Give us your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free'.

"We have to face this horror. But — then what? We have to find an answer for that. Now.

"Only then do we earn the right to look away."

He goes on to say that working with Ut made his famous photo less abstract to him.

"Here was a real man, whose image and choices changed the world in big and small ways.

"That's what seeing this little girl's arm does. It makes it real. "