People's Temple Cult Commits Mass Suicide In Guyana
Caption: JONESTOWN, GUYANA - NOVEMBER 18: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) Dead bodies lie near the compound of the People's Temple cult November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana after over 900 members of the cult, led by Reverend Jim Jones, died from drinking cyanide-laced Kool Aid; they were victims of the largest mass suicide in modern history. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
The Best of Several Gassed & Dead Dog Shots
Title: Jonestown Mass Suicide
Caption: JONESTOWN, GUYANA - 1978: People lie on the ground dead from being forced to commit suicide. Over 900 people died by the direction of Rev. Jim Jones. (Photo by Frank Johnston / The Washington Post / Getty Images)
Frank JohnstonThe son of the chief photographer at the Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1940s and 1950s, Frank Johnston counted newspaper photographers as his childhood playmates and the darkroom his playground. "As a kid, I used to run around the darkrooms harassing all of the photographers as they came in from their assignments," recalls Johnston. In 1963, Johnston landed his first job as staff photographer with UPI, where he covered President Kennedy's assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald's shooting. As U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated, Johnston volunteered to cover the ground war. Since joining The Post in 1968, he has covered the Watergate scandal, the People's Temple tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. A three-time winner of the White House News Photographers' Photographer of the Year Award, Johnston is the co-author of "The Working White House" and "Jonestown Massacre."
The effect given off by the launching of this idea on top of what were originally designed as raised agricultural beds criss-crossed by drainage ditches, but studded now with the last few remnants of a stunted banana plantation, is that only death will grow here. The black and white image is one of the most successful in the series, if for no other reason than it shows real dead white people---or if this is acting, it's very, very good acting..
Factoring in the variables, like angle, and the fish-eye lens used in one shot, I had to ask myself, could a plaid trouser leg, which nearly abuts the head of the man with the good boots and nice ass, really read like a massive alligator's tail in the color shot? Even if the underlying flesh was disparately puffing up like angel food cake and matzoh balls in a tropical oven?
But what looks like the white blouse of a girl with lower quarters dressed in red in the color shot, whose head is near that of a white youth against whose shoulder a gassed dog leaned in death, seems to have risen twice as high compared to the men.
In the black-and-white image the foreground appears as an intensely real single layer of human and canine, with a background you could fancy to be mounded corpses if you like; while in the color shot, it is the foreground that seems heaped in a strange pattern of kinetically still elevating anonymous beings, whose final convulsions commonly seem to have positioned them for a good rectal exam. Add to this what is meant to signify as the later dressing of shrouds, on this one or that, indiscriminately here or there, by blanket or towel, but which only reinforces the illogic and meaninglessness on display, and the failure to treat everybody with equal dignity by treating nobody with any.
As in any multi-fatality disaster, when lacking equipment, the first step would be to organize the corpses in an outdoor morgue of orderly rows for individual and universal access, with their faces turned up to the skylight for the purpose of identification, instead of the inchoate storytelling photojournalists have on dark display here--plus the embedded participation of news reporters with a planned covert task to document a contrived script designed to shock, dismay and overwhelm.
Then, even if the great wealth of the United States failed to rapidly Chinook in the portable refrigeration containers necessary to store bodies until order was restored and the remains could be dealt with, at least these would rot in the fields as human beings and not less. That such care has been divinely ordained at least since the time Aeschylus and Euripides wrote about such matters, when even war would cease so the rites could be performed
30 Years After Jonestown
** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, NOV. 16 **FILE* * This Nov. 1978 file photo shows bodies of followers of cult leader Jim Jones are seen at the Jonestown commune in Guyana, where more than 900 members of the People's Temple committed suicide. Passage of time since the holocaust has faded the differences between some temple enemies and loyalists, because they have experiences in common. Many share painful memories, guilt-filled feelings, loss of loved ones and psychological scars from an incomprehensible event that has come to symbolize the ultimate power of a charismatic leader over his followers. Although Jonestown has long ago passed from worldwide headlines to history, people who were entwined with the calamity live with it daily. (AP Photo, File)
Stock Photo ID: 42-29667118
Date Photographed: November 01, 1978
Location: Jonestown, Guyana
Credit: © AP/Corbis
Corpses from the Jonestown Massacre of 1978
Dead bodies litter the ground after a mass suicide of the People's Temple cult followers, led by Jim Jones, the founder and leader of the cult. Over 900 adults and children died after drinking cyanide-laced punch. The Jonestown Massacre occurred on November 18, 1978, at the Jonestown commune in Guyana.
Date Photographed: November 20, 1978
Bodies in Jonestown
People's Temple Cult mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana.
Stock Photo ID: U1949910A
Date Photographed: November 23, 1978
Location: Jonestown, Guyana
Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS