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Photographer Charlie Cole — best known for his iconic 1989 Tiananmen Square protest photo — has died


Photographer Charlie Cole, who famously snapped a Chinese pro-Democracy protester staring down a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, is dead at 64.

The Texas native was living in Bali, Indonesia, at the time of his death, according to the BBC. The 1990 World Press Photo of the Year award winner took the iconic shot from the balcony of his Beijing hotel on June 5, 1989 while working for Newsweek. He was one of four western photojournalists to have covered the event from that vantage point.

The image, which shows an unidentified man standing in front of a row of tanks, came to symbolize the resistance to China’s oppressive Communist regime.

Cole said in a 2006 PBS “Frontline” documentary that he thought he might be photographing a man’s death when he aimed his camera that day.

“During this time I’m thinking this guy is going to be killed any moment now and if he is, I just can’t miss this, this is something he’s giving his life for,” Cole said. “It’s my responsibility to record it as accurately as possible.”

The roll containing that photo could have been lost to history had Chinese authorities, who raided Cole’s hotel room after seeing him snapping away, checked the toilet bowl, where he hid it. Instead, they grabbed the first roll they found.

“They got one other roll of film from the shots I’d taken the night before and they were pretty satisfied they’d cleaned up the situation,” he said.

The fate of the protester who survived the act of defiance Cole caught on film remains unknown.

In April 1989, protesters in China started holding demonstrations against the government. Tensions peaked on June 3 when dissidents took to the streets en masse, defying government orders not to do so. The military was called in to quell the uprising and an undetermined number of Chinese citizens were killed on June 4 — the day before Cole’s photo was taken.

The official death toll from what’s come to be known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre is not known. In June 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, called for "a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing.” Britain’s ambassador to China estimated 10,000 protesters were killed, according to the BBC.

Multiple reports list sepsis as Cole’s cause of death last week.