Neil Davis - Combat Cameraman
Sometimes when you are looking through your viewfinder you get the impression you’re watching a television story. And you are not part of it. Maybe you can switch it off, or switch to another channel. It’s an extremely dangerous feeling.
Australian cine-cameraman and correspondent Neil Davis experienced and recorded various conflicts throughout the south-east Asian region between the 1960s and 1980s.To see photographs in the Australian War Memorial collection which highlight various aspects of his well-known career, respected work ethic and memorable personality, click here.
Davis’ filming of frontline combat in Indochina inspired a generation of foreign correspondents and war cinematographers. He started in the Tasmanian Government Film Unit before moving first to the ABC and then to the British company Visnews, where he worked for 11 years. He covered the Indonesian Confrontation and the war in Vietnam, chiefly from the South Vietnamese perspective. Davis gained a reputation for daring, honest and accurate reporting. Later, working for NBC, he was the only cameraman from the West to capture a tank crashing through the gates of Independence Palace as North Vietnamese troops arrived to take over Saigon in 1975. During the war his work was shown in more than 100 countries. After the war he continued to report primarily from across the south-east Asian region. On 9 September 1985 Davis and his sound recordist, American Bill Latch (to whom he was connected by a sound cable) were killed by shrapnel while filming a coup in Bangkok. Lying on the ground, Davis’s locked-on camera filmed his own death.
On the same day, journalist and author Tim Bowden coincidentally and as yet unaware of the situation overseas, started to write a biography of Neil Davis. The pair worked together in Vietnam during the war and had intended to collaborate on the book. Without his principle subject and source, Bowden relied on a series of interviews, correspondence and photographs from relatives, friends and colleagues, as well as recollections and communications previously provided by Davis. The biography One Crowded Hour. Neil Davis: Combat Cameraman 1934-1985 (1987) became a best-seller and Bowden donated his research material as well as the collated correspondence and photographs (including those featured here) to the Australian War Memorial collection.
This generous donation forms the majority of the extensive collection of photographs, films, interviews, papers and objects relating to Neil Davis held by the Australian War Memorial, which can be explored further through the online catalogue search.