Griffiths started work as a full-time freelance photographer in 1961 for The Observer, traveling to Algeria in 1962. He arrived in Vietnam in 1966, working for the Magnum agency.
Magnum found his images difficult to sell to American magazines, as they concentrated on the suffering of the Vietnamese people and reflected his view of the war as an episode in the continuing decolonization of former European possessions. However, he was eventually able to get a scoop that the American outlets liked: photographs of Jackie Kennedy holidaying with a male friend in Cambodia. The proceeds from these photos enabled him to continue his coverage of Vietnam and to publish Vietnam Inc. in 1971.
Vietnam Inc. had a major influence on American perceptions of the war, and became a classic of photojournalism.The book was the result of Griffiths' work between 1966 and 1971 in the country, and it stands as one of the most detailed surveys of any conflict. It includes critical descriptions of the horrors of the war as well as a study of Vietnamese rural life, and views from serving American soldiers. Probably one of its most quoted passages is of a US army source discussing napalm:
We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn't so hot – if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene – now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter (white phosphorus) so's to make it burn better. And just one drop is enough, it'll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.
Henri Cartier-Bresson said of Griffiths' "Not since Goya has anyone portrayed war like Philip Jones Griffiths."
The South Vietnamese president, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, criticized Griffiths' work, remarking "Let me tell you there are many people I don't want back in my country, but I can assure you Mr. Griffiths name is at the top of the list."
In 1973, Griffiths covered the Yom Kippur War. He then worked in Cambodia from 1973 to 1975. In 1980, he became the president of Magnum, a position he held for five years. In 2001 Vietnam Inc. was reprinted with a foreword by Noam Chomsky. Subsequent books have included Dark Odyssey, a collection of his best pictures, and Agent Orange, dealing with the impact of the US defoliant Agent Orange on postwar generations in Vietnam.