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Tuesday, 28 August 2012


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I was coming of age around this time... I felt like commenting on its similarity to the burning bus in Anniston AL 1961 for global impact, or on how it's a bookend to "Napalm Girl" for a terrible, tragic time in our history, but really, speechlessness is called for on every viewing of this frame...

Mike, I wonder how you define "iconic" then? Can an image be extremely famous and yet not be iconic? Why and how?

BTW, the Lego rendering is surreal:

I cannot say the car is neglected. The car looked like the main attraction at the temple half a year ago when I was there. The monastery are very proud of him and the car.

The political rap-rock group Rage Against the Machine used this image on the cover of their major label debut record. This is how I first saw it. It was cropped quite a bit, as such it was more abstract. It really shocked my 13-year-old self when I finally figured out what it was. I later bought and proudly displayed a large poster print of the image.

A few days ago I went to a talk entitled Photographs That Changed The World. The speaker included this photo in his set and pointed out that his title was incorrect: people's reactions to photos change the world.

As with Armstrong's photos two posts ago, the artistic and technical merits of this photo are weak (I do not mean to criticise, I simply mean that in a photography club competition the photos would get a lowly mark for composition, camera position, and so forth). Sometimes the power of a photograph of a photograph does not come from its artistic merits but from its content. It's easy for us photographers to get caught up in the art and technicalities and forget that sometimes content is king.


I’ve been turning over your words in my mind for a few hours now since your post appeared, and, I have to say something.

(This event occurred before I was born, so my only interaction with it is via the photograph. I am also fully aware that you run a website almost entirely (cars and audio aside ;) ) dedicated to photography, so I’m hardly looking for political opinion or social commentary when I come to TOP)

But.... your words make me feel slightly uneasy when I read the post. I do not disagree about the importance of the photograph, even if the detail as to what was pre-planned and the Diem Government’s reaction was not entirely as black and white as you imply. The latter particularly: there were several political twists and turns in the months afterwards, and several more in the months after that.

You credit the photographer by name and reputation (and with discussion in the text at nearly 90% of the whole), and Thich Quang Duc only gets his name mentioned in the penultimate paragraph. The lifetime achievements of Thich Quang Duc are not referenced, despite being considerably greater than those of Malcolm Browne. The last paragraph throwaway of “...” does to my mind demean them a little, and the two word paragraph “Good call” comes across to me, I am sorry to say, as a little too American and jarring.

You may choose to not publish this, and maybe that would be correct. While my text is - and can only be - somewhat personalised to you, it is not really you I have an issue with, but rather an unthinking approach that I feel can be present in many western discussions of complex Asian issues, and that elevates a journalist personally over the event he records, and perhaps does so in a manner that obscures the import of the event itself.

I have never been an editor of any publication, and there is probably a good reason for that. However, had I had been editing a photographic publication, I am sure that I would have published the same story and image with a discussion opening with remarking the passing of the photographer, but in the absence of any great other reason to discuss his work, of asking some searching questions of the impact of that photograph had upon the world.


James B

For anyone who is interested, here is a photo of the car that Photoelectric mentions that I took in 2010:


After he took the photo, Browne had to fight off the White Mice (the Saigon police) who were trying to snatch his camera away, got back to the bureau and filed the picture.

Thich Quang Duc died in 1963; Malcolm Browne died yesterday. On this occasion it happens to be the latter we're talking about, that's all.


An iconic image is one that can be inserted into a Super Bowl commercial and at least 90 percent of viewers are able to get that they've seen it before and parse what emotion it is supposed to convey. Images that once met this standard might not today: Iron Eyes Cody shedding a tear for the Earth comes to mind. On the other hand, the Neil Armstrong photographs that you referenced the other day -- they still be iconic, in my opinion.

I was nineteen and in college when this happened, and it was an absolutely electrifying event. Browne was by no means the only person documenting the event. In my opinion, some of the films made at the time time were even more powerful:


The Sixties were an outrageous time: little more than six months later, John Kennedy was assassinated. Think of the "iconic" photos from those days -- John Kennedy in the Magruder film as the bullet hits him, the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the girl crouched over the dead body at Kent State, Robert Kennedy dead on the hotel floor, the moon landing photos...

And about James B's comment...well, this is a photo blog.

James B.'s comments raise an interesting point. Most people who see that photo have no idea of who the monk or the photographer are. The photo exists and is seen and reacted to independently of the taker or subject - or of any other history or accomplishments they may have. This is true of many "impact" photos. It is also true of much art. It is the art object, not the artist or technique used to create it to which we react. The object and reaction are immediate and direct. The rest is "back story" which most will only be interested as a result of the impact of the photo.

An unforgettable image, even to those of us who only saw it years after the fact. How a person engulfed in flames could be as calm the monk is beyond comprehension.

For a Buddhist, the imagery is even more disturbing because such an act, as noble as the aim may be, by a member or the sangha who has renounced all worldly ties and yearnings, is a renunciation of the very vows they have taken. How could this be? How did it get to this point?

In Buddhism, there is no emphasis on the separation between state and church because you simply cannot be a monk and a politician (or political activist) at the same time. It's either or, but not both. And the notion of a powerful church exerting political influence is unthinkable.

Dear Mike, respectfully..., is that all you have to say to James B's elaborate and thoughtful remarks??? Seems a bit paltry to me and confirms James's impression...

Still disturbing after so many years. And yet the process
pushed governments of the day to rethink their policies. Ironically in this day when certain countries believe themselves to be the police force for the world, our own selves have become hardened to atrocities of war and the implications of same, in this case the peacefulness
of the person destroying their earthly self.

"In Buddhism . . . you simply cannot be a monk and a politician (or political activist) at the same time . . . the notion of a powerful church exerting political influence is unthinkable."

The Dalai Lamas were not political leaders in Tibet? I must be very misinformed about that aspect of history.

Malcolm Browne took a picture that changed the course of the American involvement in Vietnam. So did Nick Ut...and so did Eddie Adams.

The Buddhist commentators seem to be ignorant of the fact that at the time of Thich Quang Duc's self immolation, members of the Buddhist community in Saigon, including monks were deeply involved in the politics of that time with the aim to overthrow the Catholic regime of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.

Cropped version was a seminal album cover as well... Rage Against the Machines self-titled debut... imho one of the best albums of all time.


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