Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Tank Man

with 39 comments

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This is a picture that needs no caption. However, very few people know or care about the exact details of the events that transpired on June 5th, 1989. The day after Chinese troops expelled thousands of demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in Beijing (in a process that left thousands dead), the tanks returning from their mission at the Square were confronted with a lone rebel. The rebel’s identity is never revealed nor that of the commander in the lead tank who stopped.

The purely symbolic act was instantly captured on video and on cameras–whether the unknown rebel deliberated planned his protest in front of the Beijing Hotel where the press corps reside is also an equal mystery. As Time magazine wrote, “[He] may have impressed his image on the global memory more vividly, more intimately than even Sun Yat-sen did. Almost certainly he was seen in his moment of self-transcendence by more people than ever laid eyes on Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and James Joyce combined.” Video clips aired on BBC and CNN and three photos (from to bottom by Jeff Widener, AP; Charlie Cole, Newsweek; and Stuart Franklin, Magnum and Time) made sure of that.

Originally, Iconic Photos wrote (until July 2012): Although Franklin’s picture had the best vantage, it was Widener who was nominated for the Pulitzer and Cole who won World Press Photo. Franklin had been disadvantaged because he worked for a private firm (Magnum) whereas Widener (AP) and Cole (Newsweek) worked for mainstream media.  For further clarification, see New York Times and Charlie Cole’s response.

There were a fourth and a fifth photographers on the scene too. Arthur Tsang Hin Wah of Reuters and Terril Jones, an AP reporter who accidentally captured the scene unknowingly from the ground level.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm

39 Responses

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  1. [...] Bookdwarf added an interesting post today on The Tank ManHere’s a small reading…thousands of demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in Beijing (in a … In addition to creation of a culture icon–a modern day nameless, [...]

  2. [...] of a Soveit T-55 tank and tears his shirt open, ready to die. The photo, almost a sister image to the Tank Man photo that came out from Beijing 31 years later, was the iconic image of the Prague [...]

  3. I’ve seen this picture dozens of times and every time I get a little overcome; it’s one of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen

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    January 7, 2010 at 8:44 am

  4. [...] photograph I found, however, does appeal to me. Apparently, there were three photos published. The photos I’ve seen apparently were cropped. This photo, by Stuart Franklin, provides [...]

  5. [...] of his first acts was to take a photo of his wife lifting her skirt and exposing her underwear on the Tiananmen Square.  The bloodied square is a regular, conscientious feature in his work. When he took pictures of [...]

  6. [...] of his first acts was to take a photo of his wife lifting her skirt and exposing her underwear on the Tiananmen Square.  The bloodied square is a regular, conscientious feature in his work. When he took pictures of [...]

  7. [...] and World Press put out a terrible quality, grainily-cropped picture of the Tank Man Moment (see here on my old post). It definitely was not representative of the actual image nor of Mr. Cole’s [...]

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