Tiananmen’s other images

June 2, 2009 · by David Campbell · photography

For most of us ‘Tiananmen’ conjures up the image of the lone citizen standing in front of the tank. This iconic picture as been the sign around which memory of the massacre twenty years ago coalesces. 

However, in today’s Guardian novelist Ma Jian writes in honour of the thousands who were killed. It is a moving account, notable for the stories told by the former solider, now artist, Chen Guang, and the survivor who saw his friends crushed by a tank.

It is also notable for the photographs (three below) that accompany the narrative — especially the graphic image of the dead on the cover of G2, the wide-angle shot of the square with serried rows of tanks, and the injured protester making his way past groups of soldiers. These are not pictures we see regularly, and in their rarity they function as a powerful testament to the violence that ended those momentous protests.

See also The Guardian’s gallery for the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen.

(Update 3 June — The New York Times Lens blog features a great story, Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen, looking at the various versions of the ‘tank man’ photo.).

(Update 4 June — NYT Lens blog publishes for first time Terril Jones photo of ‘tank man’ from street level, in Behind the Scenes: A New Angle on History).

More updates in the Comments below


g2 cover web Tiananmens other images

g2 pp6 7 web Tiananmens other images

g2 pp10 11 web Tiananmens other images

Photo credits: AP; Jacques Langevin/Corbis/Sygma

4 Responses to “Tiananmen’s other images”

  1. On Slate.com a Magnum gallery of Tiananmen photographs contains 27 images from May and June 1989. The pictures of Koichi Imaeda (numbers 16-19, 21-23) are particularly significant.

  2. The BBC has an excellent audio slideshow on Tiananmen that includes interviews with the protesters in 1989.

  3. Very interesting to look back at how the pro-democracy demonstrations in China were depicted at the time. For example, nearly all the published photos are of Beijing, despite the fact that large protests took place across China. This may partly be due to restrictions on the movement of foreign journalists at the time in China (restrictions that were famously relaxed during the recent Olympics – though imposed in Tibet in March after violent protests there). It may also say something about how widespread camera ownership was and the lack of digital technology at the time making such devices more common. Also, we rarely see photos of the violent clashes that took place between the protestors and the security forces / army. Despite the grossly disproportionate use of force by the Chinese authorities, there was violent resistance from protestors that saw many security personnel killed. However, I have rarely seen images of these. Whether this was because most of these violent events happened at night in dangerous circumstances, or that these were not the story the media wished to tell I am not sure?
    Another issue for me is the over use of the ‘tank man’ photo – iconic maybe, but what meaning has it acquired, and given that so little is known about the identity of the man (still the case I believe?), it is often given meaning that is at odds with what is known (i.e. when the photo was taken, what was happening at the time).
    I wonder how such events would be recorded today? I guess the protests by monks in Burma in late 2007 can give us some idea.

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