The various versions of Tank Man are among the most iconic photographs of the 20th century, having a lasting impact on history to the point that the Chinese State banned the use of the word “Leica” on social media last year. In this short video, Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin discusses how his image came about, and the consequences of its publication.
Franklin’s story is intense, describing the risks undertaken during shooting, but also the tale of how the roll of film had to be smuggled out of the country to avoid being destroyed by the Chinese authorities.
Franklin was one of several photojournalists shooting events from a similar vantage point, and it was the image by Jeff Widener reporting for Associated Press that was more widely published and was later nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (slightly confusingly, this is shown on the cover of the Daily Telegraph in VICE video at 4:56). Another was Hong Kong photographer Arthur Tsang Hin-wah, shooting for Reuters news agency whose own story is equally compelling.
Perhaps what’s most fascinating is Franklin’s reflections on how the image came to be an advantage for the Chinese State, a suggestion of how the regime demonstrated restraint, and consequently drowned out other reports of violent suppression.
If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend reading Widener’s account of his photograph, complete with head injuries, worryingly low shutter speeds, and rolls of film smuggled out in underwear.