Jeff Widener's historic photos from Tiananmen Square

Updated 2:28 PM ET, Mon June 3, 2019
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A day after the Chinese military opened fire on protesters in 1989, photographer Jeff Widener was on the sixth-floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel. He was aiming his camera at a row of tanks when the iconic "Tank Man" entered the frame. "The guy walks out with this shopping bag, and I was thinking, 'The guy is going to ruin my composition,' " said Widener, who was with the Associated Press at the time. The photo ended up on the front pages of newspapers all around the world, and it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Jeff Widener/Associated Press
Before "Tank Man," pro-democracy demonstrators had been occupying Tiananmen Square for weeks. Here, university students take a midday break from the protests, using an umbrella to protect them from the heat. Jeff Widener/AP
"I'm not an activist. I'm not a hero," Widener said in 2014. "But I'm human, and it is hard not to be sympathetic towards anybody who was killed." Here, a young woman is caught between civilians and Chinese soldiers who were trying to remove her from an assembly near the Great Hall of the People on June 3, 1989. "I never actually saw any protesters killed," Widener said. "I saw soldiers killed. Mistakes were made on both sides. It's important to look at both sides of the story." Jeff Widener/Associated Press
"I hope someday the Chinese government will come forward and acknowledge what happens and move forward," Widener said. "They should just come clean on everything." Jeff Widener/Associated Press
A soldier sings among pro-democracy protesters. Police and military would occasionally mix with protesters in an attempt to keep the demonstrations peaceful. Jeff Widener/Associated Press
At the start of the crackdown, Widener remembers that "all of a sudden, there was the noise of metal crashing to the ground. An armored personnel carrier came around the corner. I was chasing after the armored vehicle, photographing and thinking: 'What am I doing? I should be getting out of here.' An invisible force is dragging you, pulling you. It's a strange feeling." Jeff Widener/Associated Press
A child sleeps on his mother's shoulder as she crosses Tiananmen Square in May 1989. Jeff Widener/AP
This was the last image Widener took before he was struck in the face by a stray brick thrown by a protester. His Nikon F3 titanium camera absorbed the blow, sparing his life. With his camera damaged, Widener witnessed a group of protesters move in on a lone soldier "like a pack of wolves" but could not photograph it. "I was thinking, 'I'm losing the Pulitzer Prize," he said. "At the same time, I felt ashamed thinking that since the soldier was probably going to be killed." Jeff Widener/Associated Press
After the crackdown, people show a picture of protesters' bodies at a morgue. Jeff Widener/Associated Press
A crowd gathers at a Beijing intersection where residents used a bus as a roadblock to keep troops from advancing toward Tiananmen Square. Jeff Widener/AP
Beijing University students endure the boredom of their sit-in at Tiananmen Square in May 1989. Jeff Widener/AP
A Chinese army tank crashes through a barricade of burned buses in front of the Beijing Hotel on June 6, 1989. Jeff Widener/AP
Students mill around Tiananmen Square in May 1989. Jeff Widener/AP
Chinese troops and tanks gather in Beijing, one day after the military crackdown. Jeff Widener/AP
Widener, left, poses with fellow photojournalist Liu Heung-Shing at Tiananmen Square in May 1989. "This might be the final chapter for me," he said in 2014. "I can't keep doing this story for the rest of my life. I've done my bit to tell the story." Courtesy Jeff Widener