Magnum Photographer Stuart Franklin Discusses His Version of the Iconic ‘Tank Man’ Photograph

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.

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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The fact that this has been up for a day and there hasn't been a single comment speaks poorly of the members here.

Just so people know, young Chinese don't know about this because they have written it out of their history.

Also, the CCP are committing genocide.

I was a tv news photographer covering Tiananmen Sq. Still in news, the company I worked for hired a young Chinese kid who as you say, had almost no knowledge of the event. She knew something occurred, but zero details.

Yeah Tyler, I agree.

Photographs like THIS are what makes and made photography important.

Stories like these are what make photographers indispensable.

I’m in awe of the shear courage it took for folks like these to record history.

I read Widener’s account and that had my heart racing and left me wondering if I would have half the gumption to get the shots he did.

I give less than two craps about most stuff I read on the photo sites, but this, this, is impactful.

Thank you...