"It is a fact there was a Tank Man. It is a fact that photographs were taken of him. Beyond that, everything that transpires in the play is an imaginative leap."
That's how playwright Lucy Kirkwood begins her foreword to Chimerica. The images of Tank Man, especially a particular photograph taken by Associated Press photojournalist Jeff Widener, have become legendary. Regularly cited in honour rolls of photography's defining moments, it is an image that invites speculation.
In 2006, British filmmaker Antony Thomas produced a feature-length documentary for PBS Frontline which used the mystery over Tank Man's identity as a framing device for a social, political and economic study of modern China. In Chimerica, Kirkwood approaches the iconic image through fiction, presenting the social, political and economic forces through the immediacy of characters and dialogue.
There are at least six recognised versions of the photograph, as well as video footage (including that shot by ABC cameraman Willie Phua). Chimerica imagines a universe in which there is a seventh photographer, Joe Schofield, played by Mark Leonard Winter.
Today, almost three decades later, the identity of Tank Man is still a mystery. Who was he? What happened to him? And where is he now?
JEFF WIDENER DESCRIBES TAKING THE IMAGE
Chimerica, 28 Feb – 1 Apr 2017, Roslyn Packer Theatre
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