A picture, a thousand words

The man who took who captured the indelible photograph of a Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire as a gesture of protest has passed away. His name was Malcolm Browne. He was 81.

I have inherited a fascination with obituaries from my mother. She says that she read the obituaries every day, and once discovered that a law school class would certainly be canceled, since the professor had died the night before.

This photograph was profoundly affecting to me. I considered writing my undergraduate thesis on the history of self-immolation as a gesture of protest, before I got side-tracked by other (slightly less horrific) things. I should have learned more about the person who took the picture, and the subject of the photo.

Amazing that a whole life’s work as a photojournalist and writer could be captured in this one image.  I don’t know that much about his politics or the quality of his journalism, but this photo is a spectacular act of witnessing.


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