Thursday, June 04, 2009

"The Tank Man" - Beijing, June 5, 1989


The above photo was taken by Charlie Cole of Newsweek Magazine. He described his version of taking this iconic photo twenty years ago along with three other photographers on the New York Times photoblog site. I've just highlight a bit of his story:

As the tanks neared the Beijing Hotel, the lone young man walked toward the middle of the avenue waving his jacket and shopping bag to stop the tanks. I kept shooting in anticipation of what I felt was his certain doom. But to my amazement, the lead tank stopped, then tried to move around him. But the young man cut it off again. Finally, the PSB (Public Security Bureau) grabbed him and ran away with him. Stuart and I looked at each other somewhat in disbelief at what we had just seen and photographed.

After taking the picture of the showdown, I became concerned about the PSB’s surveillance of our activities on the balcony. I was down to three rolls of film, with two cameras. One roll held the tank encounter, while the other had other good pictures of crowd and PLA confrontations and of wounded civilians at a hospital.

I replaced the final unexposed roll into the one of the cameras, replacing the tank roll, and reluctantly left the other roll of the wounded in the other camera. I felt that if the PSB searched the room or caught me, they would look even harder if there
was no film in the cameras.

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. I hid my cameras as best I could in the room. Within an hour, the PSB forced their way in and started searching the room. After about five minutes, they discovered the cameras and ripped the film out of each, seemingly satisfied that they had neutralized the coverage. They then forced me to sign a confession that I had been photographing during martial law and confiscated my passport.

Sometime later, I was able to return to the room and retrieve the film, which I took over to the A.P. office and developed. Afterwards, David Berkwitz, who had been sent to Beijing as the Newsweek photo tech-photographer, transmitted the picture to Newsweek in time for our deadline.
Imagine if this photo had been confiscated. Imagine never seeing this photo and what it represents. This photo has always given me chills. I never knew it had to spend time hidden in a toilet in order to see the light of day.

5 comments:

Goofball said...

wow, I didn't know that either! thanks for sharing

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I've heard about this article - it's an amazing account. It's not surprising, though. Necessity truly does become the Mother of Invention in dealing with closed societies.

Heather said...

What an amazing story.

Fourier Analyst said...

Despite my general frustrations at times with the government and society I was born in as well as those of the country I find myself currently residing in...this kind of thing makes me grateful for the freedoms I often take for granted.

Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Luisa Perkins said...

Wow; I also was clueless. Thanks!