My Favorite Picture

October 18, 2013

pho•to•graph – a representation of a person or scene in the form of a print or transparent slide.

A picture can truly be worth a thousand words. Words spoken about the picture. Words implied by the picture. Words that only the viewer can use as definition for the picture. The old proverb, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” applies seamlessly in this situation.
I love pictures that make my heart race. Make me excited just by a glance. Inspire me to righteous rebellion, or bring me back to Earth with humility. My favorite picture is misunderstood in this way. Like an awkward book on the coffee table, I typically have to explain my favorite picture. Any chance I can get to tell a story I relish. The story of my favorite picture begins with a Buddhist monk:
Thich Quang Duc stepped out of his Austin Westminster sedan along with two other monks. On this hot June day in 1963, the South Vietnamese government was feeling the backlash of the Buddhist community as 350 monks marched to meet Thich Quang Duc outside the Cambodian Embassy in Saigon. President Ngo Dinh Diem’s discriminatory policies towards the almost 80% Buddhist population had come to a boiling point, and tensions were palatable. Duc calmly walked to his chosen destination in front of the Embassy and sat in traditional lotus position, while his cohorts retrieved a five-gallon gas can from the trunk of the sedan. The two poured the contents of the gasoline container over Duc’s head. Duc rotated a string of wooden prayer beads and recited the words to a Buddhist homage before striking a match and dropping it on himself. Flames consumed his robes and flesh, and black oily smoke emanated from his burning body.

self-im•mo•la•tion – the offering of oneself as a sacrifice, esp. by burning; such suicidal action in the name of a cause or strongly held belief.

After approximately ten minutes, Duc’s body was fully immolated and it eventually toppled backwards onto its back. The spectators were mostly stunned into silence, but some wailed and several prayed. Amongst the crowd was a photographer named David Halberstam of The New York Times. He was one of only two American photographers at the scene that day, and he captured a picture to which President Kennedy commented, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.”
I claim no loyalty to Buddha, and I would never support a formal protest solidified with self-immolation. However, that has no influence on the emotion I feel when looking at my favorite picture. My heart always pounds a little harder when it is within view. My mind transports my body into that startled crowd in June of 1963. I’m inspired to turn my passion into action.
I think we all have these kind of reminders in our lives, but do we rise to action when our passion wells inside our chest? Or do we stare at our once inspiring piece and wonder, “Now what was so exciting about that burning monk?” I put my favorite picture where I knew I would have to look at it every day. Somewhere I could not escape it, and every time I pass by it seems to whisper to me, “ What you plan to do with all that passion?”