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Terril Jones ’80 Offers New Photographic Perspective on Tiananmen Square Tank Protestor 20 Years Later

Tiananmen Square photo by Terril Jones '80

As the tanks approach, the "Tank Man" stands just to the right of the man who is running. - Terril Jones / Associated Press

Upon the 20-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest on June 5, Terril Jones ’80 finally found the perfect opportunity to release an almost-forgotten photograph that reveals a new perspective of the famous man who faced down the tanks that day.

As a writer for The Associated Press’ Tokyo bureau in 1989, Jones also liked to dabble in other media like photography and radio. He was in Beijing covering an important visit by Mikhail Gorbachev when the protests began. While reporting on the story, Jones also took many photographs, including the one he snapped amidst the chaos of gun shots and approaching tanks. His AP photo editors accepted a few photos, and returned the negatives to him. About a month later, he printed the photos and realized what he had.

“It could have been months, or even a year or more, before I noticed that this photo included the man who stopped the tanks,” says Jones, who has also worked for Forbes and the L.A. Times. “I was stunned and riveted, but by then the world's attention had moved on to, and beyond, news such as the death of Ayatollah Khomeini and the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

For years Jones had been considering how to bring the photo to light. After spending six months on a digital media fellowship at Ohio State University last year, he was going to incorporate it into a multimedia narrative of his experience in Beijing in 1989.

“But [the week of June 1,] The New York Times' new photography blog, ‘Lens,’ did a piece about the four (known) photographers who took pictures of the so-called ‘Tank Man,’” says Jones. “A photographer friend of mine emailed me saying, ‘Hey, aren't you the Fifth Photographer?’ I thought it was timely, 20 years later to the day, finally to make public this photo that I'd been carrying around with me--physically and emotionally.”

His photo shows the Tank Man “clearly positioning himself for a confrontation with the approaching army,” Jones told The New York Times. You can see others running from the tanks and gunfire as the man holds his ground.

Times blogger Patrick Writty writes: “Unlike the other four versions, we are given a sense of what it was like on the ground as the tanks heaved forward, the man’s act of defiance escalated by the flight of others.”

Professor of Chinese Allan Barr, who recently translated novelist Yu Hua’s memories of the Tiananmen Square protests for an op-ed in The New York Times, points out how this new angle shows the bravery of the protestor.

“This ground-level photograph captures the urgency and uncertainty of the moment and reveals two things not readily apparent in the familiar pictures of a protester confronting a column of tanks,” says Barr. “On the one hand, we see the panic and devastation on Chang’an Avenue that day--the young men fleeing the gunfire, the burned-out bus and abandoned bulldozer--and on the other hand, we realize more fully the protester’s remarkable nerve: With the tanks still a good fifty yards away and with all this chaos around him, he has made up his mind he will block their advance and stands there motionless as they rumble toward him.”

After Jones’ photo appeared in the blog, AP also picked up the story and it appeared in many news outlets.

“I knew that I would use the photo publicly sometime soon, but hadn't determined the timing,” says Jones. “The anniversary, and the write-up of the more-famous photos of Man vs. Tank in Beijing, prompted me to put it out there at a time when many people's thoughts had returned to this unknown man's lone act two decades ago.”