(…) It was taken on Washington, D.C., on October 21, 1967. The Indian-summer sun was shining on a vast and joyous demonstration against the war in Vietnam. There were radical students groups, civil rights activists, Black Power advocates, middle-class liberals, hippies, and government employees. There was theater, music, sessions of Buddhist meditation, plus all the chants, laughter, and hugs. There were armfuls of flowers to hand to the soldiers, there was the scent of marijuana. And there was, Jan Rose, fervent, idealistic, non conformist. Aged sixteen, she was convinced she could change the world. She could make a difference.
The demonstration came dangerously close to the Pentagon, that bastion and symbol of the most powerful military force in the world, defended by hundreds of helmeted soldiers with bayonets fixed to their rifles. Jan Rose marched right up to the sharp points. She wanted to talk to the young soldiers, to reason with them, maybe unsettle them –or at least catch their eyes. “Do you realize what you’re doing? You accept this shameful job?” They avoided her gaze, which shocked her. So she provoked them, coming closer still, opening her arms wide and thrusting out her chest as though to say, “Okay, stab me!” And then suddenly she took a flower and held it before her face like a vulnerable, holy object. Riboud feverishly recorded the scene. And then immediately ran out of film –Jan Rose and her chrysanthemum was his last shot.
The picture would be seen around the world. It incarnated non-violence and the sweet face of American youth. It inspired pacifists and idealists everywhere. It was timeless, its heroine nameless and ageless – at least until the day the two met up again, a humanist photographer with graying hair and a somewhat sad former hippie who had taken some knocks in life but was now a mother. She threw herself into his arms. Jan Rose was so proud to have been part of the struggle back then. So when she answered the call once again, in February 2003, to march in London against the war in Iraq, she telephoned Riboud from Denmark, where life has led her, and they met up in Trafalgar Square. She marched with a huge poster of her younger self, in perfect unison with 1967.