SYDNEY Friends and former colleagues hailed storied Vietnam War photographer Tim Page as a "mentor" and an "amazing talent" on Thursday, after he passed away in Australia aged 78.
The English snapper and author enjoyed a career spanning half a century and countless datelines, but is most famous for a series of gritty, haunting and compelling images from the American War in Việt Nam.
With a Leica camera slung over his shoulder and a cigarette – or something stronger – usually dangling from his lips, Page spent much of the 1960s roving the deltas and jungles of Indochina, capturing images that would define the war and an era.
"Any war picture is an anti-war picture," he would tell interviewers half a century later. "The coverage did affect public opinion."
An engaging and charismatic man, Page's childhood was spent in an English orphanage. It was an experience that friend Luke Hunt believes made Page "very good at getting people to like him".
He departed England in his teens, working in a brewery, selling blood and smuggling drugs to fund travels along the hippie trail to South East Asia.
John F. Kennedy was still in the White House at the time, and in Việt Nam the United States was at the thin end of a wedge that would eventually cleave US society and humble the world's pre-eminent superpower.
As the war heated up, Page entered journalism, working for United Press International. Eventually he became emblematic of a breed of fearless, unconventional and unsparing "gonzo" photojournalists.
In his boundary-breaking book "Dispatches", author Michael Herr described Page as the most extravagant of the "wigged-out crazies running around Việt Nam".
Page was said to be the inspiration for Dennis Hopper's character in the film Apocalypse Now, and he once shared a Connecticut jail cell with Jim Morrison of The Doors.
But Việt Nam affected Page's private life as much as it did his professional career.
He spent at least a decade recovering from injuries sustained during the war and spoke openly about suffering from post-traumatic stress.
As a person, Page "wasn't everyone's cup of tea", Hunt said.
But he was often generous with his time and a keen mentor to younger generations of photographers seeking to follow in his footsteps.
"Tim wasn't like a lot of the old journalists, he didn't have his nose in the air, telling everyone 'we had a better run than you did', he was very generous like that," said Hunt.
"He was a gifted writer, which unless you've read his books you wouldn't know," he added.
"He was an extraordinary talent when I think about it."
In the early 1990s Page set up shop in Cambodia, working for various media outlets, including AFP.
In later life, he became interested in peacekeeping, and honouring the memory of journalists who lost their lives in war zones.
He spent years trying to account for the disappearance of his friends Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, who went missing in Cambodia in 1970 and are presumed to have been killed by the Khmer Rouge.
"That became a profound project for him" said friend Mark Dodd, who described Page as a keen "student of humanity".
"He made it almost his life's quest. In the end it resulted in honouring all those journalists who lost their lives," said Dodd.
In 1997, he co-edited a book entitled Requiem, which chronicles the work of 135 photographers who died in conflicts in French Indochina and later Việt Nam.
Page died of cancer at his home in the Australian bush on Wednesday, and is survived by long-time partner Marianne "Mau" Harris. AFP