By now, you’ve probably seen the above photograph countless times. It’s likely occupied your News Feed and topped stories from sources both Left and Right. Jonathan Bachman’s photo has come to represent the heart-rending events of last week: the fatal police shootings of two black men, Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, the protests that spawned in response, and the sniper attack that, in the midst of one of those protests, saw five Dallas police officers killed.
In it, Ieshia Evans, an unarmed black woman in a sundress and ballet flats, peacefully faces off police officers sporting full riot gear outside the Baton Rouge police department. The 35-year-old nurse remained on the street after police asked protesters to disperse and was cuffed just after Bachman captured his shot. She was released from jail on Sunday evening, perhaps not yet knowing that her profile had become a new emblem for the struggles represented by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bachman’s is not the first photograph to emerge out of Black Lives Matter and cement itself in the popular imagination nor will it likely be the last. But, like all feats of photojournalism that go on to define major social movements and news events, it captures and humanizes the very fear, pain, and struggle that motivates those at the heart of each movement in a way that words—particularly the removed words of journalists—cannot. Throughout recent history, iconic images like these have represented the ravages of war, captured long-endured injustices, highlighted the absurdity of the state power apparatus when placed against the individual, and mobilized mass movements for change. In each frame, a message: It could always be you.
So it was on June 5, 1989, when, following nearly two months of demonstrations in Beijing and the Chinese military’s violent killing of thousands of protesters, a lone Chinese rebel fearlessly walked before a row of moving army tanks in Tiananmen Square. The unidentified protester (forever remembered as “Tank Man
”) stood his ground as the engines revved. He climbed on top of the first tank to speak to one of the soldiers and was later whisked away—whether to safety or to his death remains unknown.
But the resulting photograph, which appeared on the cover of the New York Times the next day but remains censored in Chinese media to this day, shows only the stand-off. It hints at omnipresent state violence, irrespective of Tank Man’s fate. In retrospect, it hints at the momentous changes to come in Mainland China during the following two decades, this individual splitting off from any collectivity, whether communist or otherwise, in self-definition. The image became a symbol more widely of courage and nonviolent resistance and remains one of the most iconic representations of civil disobedience—and of the late 20th century, period.
On October 21, 1967, French photojournalist Marc Riboud was among a crowd of some 100,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters who stormed the Pentagon, confronting the more-than-2,500 rifle-wielding soldiers that guarded the building. It was there that he fixed his lens on 17-year-old high-school student Jan Rose Kasmir and snapped a portrait of the young woman
, dressed in a flowered blouse and clutching a chrysanthemum, peacefully confronting a row of the National Guard holding sharply aimed bayonets.
Kasmir’s efforts to speak with the soldiers weren’t successful. Shortly after the click of Riboud’s shutter, protesters were arrested, beaten, and clouded with tear gas. But Riboud’s photograph and American photographer Bernie Boston’s similar image “Flower Power
” traveled the world. They became emblems of the movements around the globe in the coming year that confronted the military industrial complex with an alternative consciousness empowered by peace.