Vietnamese suicide monk’s photographer dies

Malcolm Browne's 1963 image of Thich Quang Duc. Photograph: Malcolm Browne/AP

In 1963, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk committed suicide by burning himself, in protest against the violent persecution of Buddhists by the United States-supported South Vietnamese dictatorship.

Today, from daily The Guardian in Britain:

Malcolm Browne: man behind iconic burning monk photograph dies aged 81

Browne was a hero of photojournalism whose best work was beautifully judged and infused with a dignified power

Malcolm Browne’s 1963 photograph of a monk on fire in Saigon retains its power even after half a century. Browne has died aged 81, but his most famous picture will endure as a classic. Violent history has continued to create violent pictures ever since. But the dreadful act of self-immolation seemed a new kind of protest then. …

Yet still, this photograph has tragic power.

This is partly because it is in black and white, a restrained palette that worked well for news in the past because of its dignifying effect. The monochrome flames engulfing the monk are somehow more a matter for the imagination than they would be in gory colour. This slight holding back of horror allows a brief moment of thought and reflection to the observer of what is, by any standards, a shocking scene.

Yet the power of the picture ultimately comes from the stillness and calm of the monk, Thich Quang Duc. His composure as he is engulfed by agonising, petrol-fuelled fire is profoundly unsettling. The contrast between his suffering and his meditative pose is unearthly, and Browne’s photograph serves the self-sacrificing monk perfectly, for the photographer too seems to have worked carefully, rather than simply seizing a shot. The balanced, calm composition of the picture is what allows it to do justice to the scene.

USA: in 1965 a 31-year-old Quaker named Norman Morrison set himself on fire in front of the river entrance to the Pentagon to protest the use of napalm in the Vietnam war. Morrison doused himself in kerosene and set himself on fire below Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s office: here.

8 thoughts on “Vietnamese suicide monk’s photographer dies

    • Definitely.

      Buddhism does not encourage suicide. That Thich Quang Duc nevertheless did it was a sign how deep the despair about the Saigon dictatorship was.

      Judaism and Islam also do not encourage suicide. That it sometimes does happen is a sign of despair about occupation, like in Afghanistan; or about anti-poor policies of the Netanyahu administration in Israel.


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