The Birth & Death of the World

a baby with encephalitis, and wingsSWD 2: ‘The Birth & Death of the World’
Year: 2004
Media: Ink, gouache.
Framed 27 in. H x 33 13/16 W
Exhibits: Washington State Univ., Tri-Cities, Wash. 2007 Seattle Central College, Seattle, 2013 and others.


Homage to an “Agent Orange” baby girl with no name. She was born November 1998 with hydro-encephalitis in Vinh Long province, Vietnam, and died a month later. The portrait of the infant’s head was inspired by a photo in the book Agent Orange – Collateral Damage in Vietnam by the late Welsh photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths. (Pub: Trolley Books, Ltd, London, 2003).

The wings were drawn at the ornithology lab, Burke Museum of Natural History, Univ. of Washington, Seattle.

I first saw the photo in the Agent Orange book, which I had checked out from Seattle Public Library. The photo made me think of American sci-fi movies, with the infant’s enlarged head. Her head almost made me think of the world, as in the planet earth. Hence the title, which is derived from an old Jewish saying, “if you save a life you save an entire world.’ The saying means that one persons life is an entire world, like a universe. That phrase is heard in a scene near the very end of the Stephen Spielberg directed movie, Schindler’s List.

Phillip Jones Griffiths

Phillip Jones Griffiths was born 18 February 1938 in Wales; he died March 19, 2008 in London, England. He made a great array of astonishing, breathtaking and moving photos over the course of his career. Griffiths worked as a freelance photographer in Algeria, 1961; he went to Vietnam, 1966, working for Magnum, the agency for professional photojournalists. He covered the Yom Kippur war, 1973 and was in Cambodia, 1973-75.  Griffiths returned to southeast Asia years after the war ended. The photos in the Agent Orange book are of the trips he made then.

The Philip Jones Griffiths Foundation website includes some photos from the Agent Orange work.

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