photo politics

A man with a shopping bag

The NYT's Lens blog recent­ly post­ed a cou­ple of great arti­cles about the pho­tog­ra­phers who cap­tured the Tien­an­men Square protests in 1989. The first offers four riv­et­ing oral his­to­ries from pho­tog­ra­phers who cap­tured the "Tank Man" in his moment of defi­ance, and the sec­ond adds a new twist: this amaz­ing image from street level.

Tank Man at street level - New York Times - Lens BlogDis­or­der. Peo­ple flee­ing. This was hap­pen­ing as the Tank Man, seem­ing­ly so calm, stood in the street. I also think it's inter­est­ing that all the men in the pho­to are wear­ing — as a com­menter on the NYT blog put it — "the same drab clothes." A true illus­tra­tion of how much has changed in Chi­na in the last 20 years.

The Roshomon-like details in all of the pho­tog­ra­phers' sto­ries are vivid and heart­break­ing: "Vehi­cles were smol­der­ing," "a line of stu­dents fac­ing a line of sol­diers and a col­umn of tanks," "anoth­er vol­ley of shots rang out from where the tanks were, and peo­ple began duck­ing, shriek­ing, stum­bling and run­ning," "some guy in a white shirt runs out in front," "a man wav­ing two plas­tic shop­ping bags," "wav­ing his jack­et and shop­ping bag," "remon­strat­ing with the tank dri­ver in an act of defi­ance," "he then dis­ap­peared into the crowd," "the PSB (Pub­lic Secu­ri­ty Bureau) grabbed him and ran away."

And then what happened?

Char­lie Cole: "I then placed the tank roll in a plas­tic film can and wrapped it in a plas­tic bag and attached it to the flush chain in the tank of the toilet."Stuart Franklin: "The film was smug­gled out in a pack­et of tea by a French stu­dent and deliv­ered to the Mag­num office in Paris."Jeff Widen­er: "I gave all my rolls of film to [some­one named] Kurt/Kirk who smug­gled it back to the A.P. office in his under­wear. The long-haired col­lege kid was wear­ing a dirty Ram­bo T‑shirt, shorts and san­dals." Arthur Tsang Hin Wah: "A col­league rode over on a bike and picked up the film."And Ter­ril Jones, the reporter who cap­tured the shot at street lev­el: "I nev­er pub­lished them, and only showed them to a few friends and fel­low reporters."And the rest is his­to­ry. That keeps unfold­ing, I guess.