It's one of the very few photographs that anyone can visualize instantly from a verbal description. "The burning monk." You know the picture.
Malcolm Browne was the photographer; he died yesterday after a long and full life.
I knew little about the photo and nothing about him. I was fascinated to learn from the obituary that many foreign journalists and photographers were alerted a day in advance to show up for the event—but only Malcolm Browne did.
I decided yesterday that I should mentally replace the word "iconic" whenever it appears with the word "famous," which is more often what people mean. But is this photograph ever...famous. An image check on the web reveals tattoos, T-shirts, macabre spoofs, a rendering in Lego, colorized versions, posters, art prints, on and on.
Malcolm Browne worked for the Associated Press when he took the picture, which was voted the World's Best News Picture of 1963 at the seventh World Press Photo contest in The Hague. He joined the New York Times in 1968.
As for Thich Quang Duc, who had acquired such mind control that he meditated peacefully as he perished, his death was not in vain. His protest actually did influence international policy.
...With a little help from the only foreign photographer who showed up to witness it.
(Thanks to Pierre Munson)
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Photoelectric: "The Austin [the car —Ed.] in the photo, in which Thich Quang Duc arrived that day, is still parked in a garage at the Thien Mu temple in Hue. It's rusty and neglected and would be totally unmemorable except for that photo, which gives it a strange sort of power when you see it."
Featured Comment by Rob Atkins: "Unfortunately, self-immolation of Buddhist monks has been in the papers with disturbing frequency lately, as the Chinese government continues its repression of Tibet."
Featured Comment by PWL: "Remember seeing this photo as a kid, when it first came out. Shocking. It was photos like this, plus the stuff that photographers like Larry Burrows did (I particularly remember 'One Ride With Yankee Papa 13') which made me realize that war was very different—and a lot uglier—than what we were presented with in TV shows like 'Combat.'"
Featured Comment by peter: "Interesting Malcolm Browne's commentary on the event...."