Still popular images

Digital cameras may well have rendered the single, iconic image obsolete

Twenty five years ago, a solitary man stood in the middle of one of the wide boulevards that feed into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and stared down a line of tanks. In doing so, he didn’t just stop the Chinese government’s brutal push back against pro-democracy protesters, he also, briefly, stopped the world.

The actions of this still unnamed man became a symbol for the seismic changes that China was then momentarily experiencing and were captured by four news photographers. As The National reported yesterday, although video footage of the incident was widely broadcast, it is the still image that has become an iconic photograph as Tank Man.

If the events of June 1989 were repeated today, of course, they would be wrapped in a bundle of streaming video, rolling news, social media and traditional print, making it all but impossible for a defining image to emerge from the cacophony of media noise. Only this week one of the most arresting images of our era – that of Pope Francis praying silently by the separation wall in Bethlehem – was widely reproduced in print and elsewhere. Such was the scrum of photographers who accompanied him that the event is recorded from almost every conceivable angle. Digital cameras may well have rendered the single, iconic image obsolete.

Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM