Qang Duc sat still as he was engulfed in flame
Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Malcolm Browne, who took the above picture of Qang Duc’s 1963 self-immolation in protest of the South Vietnamese government, died Monday.
Time’s Lightbox has a slide show of the events leading up to this moment and includes a Q&A with Browne about that day:
I had some hint that [the event] would be something spectacular, because I knew these monks were not bluffing. They were perfectly serious about doing something pretty violent. In another civilization it might have taken the form of a bomb or something like that.
The monks were very much aware of the result that an immolation was likely to have. So by the time I got to the pagoda where all of this was being organized, it was already underway—the monks and nuns were chanting a type of chant that’s very common at funerals and so forth. At a signal from the leader, they all started out into the street and headed toward the central part of Saigon on foot. When we reached there, the monks quickly formed a circle around a precise intersection of two main streets in Saigon. A car drove up. Two young monks got out of it. An older monk, leaning a little bit on one of the younger ones, also got out. He headed right for the center of the intersection. The two young monks brought up a plastic jerry can, which proved to be gasoline. As soon as he seated himself, they poured the liquid all over him. He got out a matchbook, lighted it, and dropped it in his lap and was immediately engulfed in flames. Everybody that witnessed this was horrified. It was every bit as bad as I could have expected.
I don’t know exactly when he died because you couldn’t tell from his features or voice or anything. He never yelled out in pain. His face seemed to remain fairly calm until it was so blackened by the flames that you couldn’t make it out anymore. Finally the monks decided he was dead and they brought up a coffin, an improvised wooden coffin.
Time Lightbox, Malcolm Browne: The Story Behind The Burning Monk.