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Abracadabra

Tiananmen Square: A new angle on history

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TankMan.JPG

 

Terril Jones had only shown the photograph to friends.

 

While working as a reporter in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, he shot many photographs and recorded several hours of video. It wasn’t until weeks afterwards, when he had returned to Japan, that he discovered the magnitude of what he had captured — an iconic moment in history from an entirely unique angle.

 

His version of the tank man has never been published until now.

 

For 20 years the negatives rested in Mr. Jones’ belongings, following him across the world throughout his career as a journalist. He contacted The New York Times after reading the accounts of the other four photographers in Wednesday’s Lens blog.

 

Mr. Jones’ angle on the historic encounter is vastly different from four other versions shot that day, taken at eye level moments before the tanks stopped at the feet of the lone protester. Wildly chaotic, a man ducks in the foreground, reacting from gunfire coming from the tanks. Another flashes a near-smile. Another pedals his bike, seemingly passive as the tanks rumble towards confrontation.

 

The photograph encourages the viewer to reevaluate the famous encounter. Unlike the other four versions, we are given a sense of what it was like on the ground as the tanks heaved forward, the man’s act of defiance escalated by the flight of others.

Mr. Jones shared his experience in an e-mail message to The Times:

 

I was extremely high strung by June 5 when I took this photo. I had been running on little sleep since students began a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square on May 13, and I had been trading shifts with other A.P. reporters, staffing the square 24/7 for nearly three weeks.

 

Adrenaline and the drive to stay close to the action took me back to the street on June 5. I was in front of the Beijing Hotel and I could hear tanks revving up and making their way toward us from Tiananmen. I went closer to the street and looked down Changan Avenue over several rows of parked bicycles when another volley of shots rang out from where the tanks were, and people began ducking, shrieking, stumbling and running toward me. I lifted my camera and squeezed off a single shot before retreating back behind more trees and bushes where hundreds of onlookers were cowering. I didn’t know quite what I had taken other than tanks coming toward me, soldiers on them shooting in my direction, and people fleeing.

 

I stayed in Beijing for another month, until after Tiananmen Square and the Gate of Heavenly Peace were reopened to the public. It was only some time after I returned to Tokyo that, as I was going through my negatives, I printed this photo and noticed that I, too, had captured the so-called “tank man,” but from a completely different angle. He is small but unmistakable as he stands in the center of Changan Jie, clearly positioning himself for a confrontation with the approaching army. I was stunned to see him in my photo because his image had become a global icon of the events in Beijing. But I made the discovery several weeks after the fact, and the A.P. had already sent out a defining photo of that moment. So I filed away my picture, along with a couple of hundred more, and six hours of videotape that I had taken over three weeks of growing demonstrations.

 

I never published them, and only showed them to a few friends and fellow reporters. But they were never far from my mind.

 

I’ve always regretted not staying in place longer 20 years ago, despite the gunshots, and taken more photos, so that I might have realized what was unfolding before my eyes. But while I missed the timeliest opportunity to share this photo in 1989, today is an appropriate time to pull it out finally from its decades-old wraps.

 

source

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"I was extremely high strung by June 5 when I took this photo."

 

i read this as i was extremely high when i took this photo, and it made me laugh.

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That photo is almost nothing without the original being so well known.

The other has the "right place at the right time" factor and better perspective.

This one would be trashed if it didn't remind you of the other.

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That photo is almost nothing without the original being so well known.

The other has the "right place at the right time" factor and better perspective.

This one would be trashed if it didn't remind you of the other.

 

You're right, but this is a perfect example of the criteria of certain types of award winning press photographs: original versions left out everyone else in order to make a good picture.

 

I think photojournalism has been criticized sometimes for only underlining the public opinion instead of telling a story. In the case of Tiananmen massacre I don't think it's bad thing to be subjective, but the original still just showed how people felt about it. That's if you wanna stick with the ethics of journalism or whatnot.

 

Then again you have to sell the paper with limited headlines and photographs. In that sense the 'fault' of idealizing a story is that of the editors too. I'm sure there were 31241 photographers who took 321321 photos of which only one got cropped and published in the front page.

 

Terril guy gets my props for bumping the whole tragedy and giving a new light to what the fuck happened. In the case of unarmed people getting killed I think they should publish all the photos and 6h of video material. Missing an epic photo is irrelevant...

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great find.

 

on another note, the chinese underground punk scene is one of the most interesting ones in the world, because they actually do live in an unquestionably fascist, closed society. i wish i could find this article i read about it. i'd love to hear stories from anyone who has traveled there and witnessed it firsthand.

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i know some dudes that went over there. im not 100% if they went to china, but in like thailand, phillipines ect.. punk/hardcore shows are 100% illegal so their shows are held in abandonded buildings and shit. they're all secret and only get known about by word of mouth, so its like a secret society gathering everytime they have shows. if the shows get busted up they are in some serious fuckin trouble, especially if your american. they might as well be cooking up crack and shit at the shows.

 

or so i was told.

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I totally agree with Mercer that this photo would have far less impact if we didn't all know the more famous shot, but given that we do... it's awesome to get another perspective on that day. Seeing other people running and ducking while that dude just stands there is awesome, and the fact that he's so firmly planted that long before they reached him is a revelation as well.

 

I give that dude prop boxes for days.

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I'm giving props to that nigga just chillin' on his bike. He's like I'm not even gonna start some shit, I'll just be rolling while they hating.

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