Gunfire. More Gunfire.
Distant Gunfire and the sound of heavy machinery grinding ever closer.
These were the street sounds heard by people in and around Tiananmen Square, China on June 5, 1989. College students occupied, Tiananmen Square, the city’s central quarter demanding democratic reforms. The Chinese, communist government reacted by calling up troops with tanks and heavy military equipment in an effort to brutally put down the student democratic movement. Subsequently, many student protestors were either killed or imprisoned and the movement was crushed.
One, now famous scene was captured in a revealing image taken by Reuters Photographer, Jeff Widner. Known as the “tank man” picture for it’s dramatic portrayal of a lone student protester standing symbolically , in front of a tank, the image generated massive social and political support throughout the world. Wideners powerful image is however, not the only picture taken at that moment. There were five photojournalists with Widner and they also caught images of the unfolding scene. Why we know of Widner’s picture and not theirs is the subject of this week’s post. (below; Jeff Widner with Tank Man image, reuters)
There are varying explanations as to why Widner’s image made it to the covers of newspapers and magazines throughout the world. I am not sure which is correct, but I have read that, Reuters had the film taken by Widner flown directly to their editors. Whether or not they knew something was in those film rolls cannot be verified. And to be fair, to, me the iconic version is the best of those taken that day. Nevertheless, it was Reuters and Widner who made history.
Of course in our world images are disseminated frequently via all social media platforms. Most reporters, including print and interestingly, television anchors are required to participate in facebook, twitter and instagram updates. We know this, since it’s witnessed everyday. To state the obvious, had all five of the photojournalists present in Tiananmen Square, had access to social media, we might have had a variety of images from which we could evaluate the situation. But, my point reaches farther than that. Not only are designated photojournalists using social media, and for the most part pretty effectively, television reporters upload pictures along with their reports. This provides the reader or viewer with many benefits, from setting the context to, offering insight into the personality of the reporter. Neither of these important elements were present before.
Over the past few months, I have been glued to the television, online newspapers, blogs and social media from twitter to instagram. As a political junkie, my interest in the American election and the primaries has been stimulated by the plethora of fascinating content that’s now available online. In fact, I watch television online, with a split screen that shows twitter and instagram feeds from my favourite reporters. From this, I not only gain insight into the process of creating a news report (many reporters use their cell phone to film the pre interview process with candidates), but more interestingly, I see the physical and mental strain that is often experienced by the reporters. Lately, I have been following, Katy Tur, Hallie Jackson (MS NBC) along with the Politico team. Live reports are one thing but a frequent twitter feed along with cell phone video can be quite dramatic. Over the weekend, Katy Tur posted a twitter comment along with video while she was in the middle of a volatile Trump rally. Fascinating stuff.
Just Imagine, what Tank Man would have looked like in video and as a live feed with real comments, from all five photojournalists.
A few links to content mentioned in this blog;
The Other Tank Man
Katy Tur, MSNBC; read her great analysis as well
Hallie Jackson, NBC; she often uses images posted on instram to give readers a sense of the environment and location and her routine or schedule is fun to see.
A primer for the next blog that talks about the use of social media in fine art and documentary photography;