“Tank Man” Photographs Turn Twenty-Five Tomorrow

25 years ago (tomorrow), the Chinese government cracked-down on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. While videographers were rolling, an unknown man stepped-out in-front of a column of tanks on Chang'an Avenue. At least four photographers were shooting stills with long lenses from a hotel balcony half-a-mile away. Tank Man's fate is still unknown.

widenerJeff Widener/Associated Press)
Stuart Franklin, Charles Cole, Jeff Widener, Terril Jones and Arthur Tsang Hin Wah all made photographs of "Tank Man" for their various news agencies. (If you'd quickly like to see their vantage points, this LensBlog post from 2009 has Franklin, Cole, Widener & Wah.) In the passing years, each photographer has told their own story, and I thought I'd highlight some notable points.

Here's Stuart Franklin's contact sheet; he recently spoke with The Guardian about his role that day. "I packed my film into a box of tea and gave it to a French student who was heading back to Paris. She got it to Magnum."


In a similar footnote about smuggling in a great post about Charlie Cole in 2012, "Mr. Widener gave his film to a college student in shorts and T-shirt, who would not arouse suspicions, and who took them to AP Office in his underwear."

And if you look at Stuart Franklin's photo(s) beside Charlie Cole's, it's nearly impossible to tell them apart. (If you do a google image search for Franklin, you may find Cole's photos, and vice-versa.) Cole explains: "We also shot our tank photos shoulder to shoulder, and used various focal lengths at different moments. I think it is pretty safe to say that we both have fairly identical photos of the scene."

Pulled from various sources, I tried to create matching crops of frames of Stuart Franklin's & Charlie Cole's. First is Cole's:

(© Charles Cole)

Next is Stuart Franklin's:

(© Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos)

If the two of them were "shoulder-to-shoulder", can you tell who photographed from the left, and who was on the right?

UPDATE: I became curious to see exactly what were the differences between the two pictures, and came-up with this:

When you roll your mouse over the Cole photo above, the Franklin version loads on top. What it shows is that Franklin's photo is taken a split second after Cole's, in that the tanks (behind the 1st tank) incrementally crept-forward after Cole's photograph was taken.

In 2009, Terril Jones and LensBlog published a never-before-seen photograph of "Tank Man" taken from ground level.

(© Terril Jones/Associated Press)

One factoid about these photographs that surprised me is from this Charlie Cole interview in the "Tank Man" documentary. Scrub forward to 5minutes 45seconds, where Cole talks about how he hid his film of Tank Man from the police in a toilet tank.

And to wrap-up, we can't forget the project from 2010 Critical Mass Award Book Finalist Pavel Maria Smejkal, who re-worked iconic photographs, including this frame of Tank Man. Was the original Cole's or Franklin's?

(© Pavel Maria Smejkal) For more information, please see Alec Selwyn-Holmes' excellent Iconic Photos.

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