The photos that defined a massacre

Photographer Stuart Franklin captured the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre on 3 to 4 June 1989. In the fourth video of Culture’s Through the Lens series, he reveals the inside story of a series of images smuggled out of China in a box of tea.

Warning: the video contains scenes of an upsetting nature.

Video

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“I was squatting down and photographing between the balustrades of the balcony, and as the tanks rolled through the now-cleared crowd, a single guy – white shirt, black trousers, two shopping bags, one in each hand – stood in the middle of the road.”

Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin describes the person who has come to be known as ‘tank man’: a figure who stood firm as a line of tanks moved toward him, and whose fate has never been discovered.

“I felt very distant,” Franklin says in this video, the fourth of BBC Culture’s Through the Lens series marking the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos, “in fact so distant that I thought the photo was really of no interest at all.”

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For many, Franklin’s images have come to define the turbulent days in 1989 when a protest by Chinese students and workers in Beijing was crushed by the army, leaving hundreds dead. In this film, the photographer talks about his images of tired soldiers, wounded demonstrators – and the posters of the dead that were stuck up on lamp-posts in central Beijing, “like tweets from the street”.

He also describes how he smuggled his rolls of film out of China – hidden in a box of tea. “I was very lucky to hold onto my film… and to be able to tell the story.”

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