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Twenty-three years ago today, Jeff Widener ran out of film during the most important assignment of his life.

The brutal crackdown at Tiananmen Square was underway and Widener, a photographer for the Associated Press, was sent to the square to capture the scene. “I rode a bicycle to the Beijing Hotel,” Widener says. “Upon my arrival, I had to get past several Chinese security police in the lobby. If they stopped and searched me, they would have found all my gear and film hidden in my clothes.” But there, in the shadows of the hotel entrance, he saw a long-haired college kid wearing a dirty Rambo t-shirt, shorts and sandals. “I yelled out, ‘Hi Joe! Where you been?’ and then whispered that I was from AP.” Widener remembers. He asked to go to the young man’s room. “He picked up on it,” says Widener, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see the approaching security men turn away, thinking I was a hotel guest.”

The young man was an American. His name was Kirk Martsen.

Martsen told Widener that he was lucky to arrive when he did. Just a few minutes earlier, some hotel guests had been shot by a passing military truck full of Chinese soldiers. Martsen said hotel staff members had dragged the bodies back in the hotel and that he had barely escaped with his life. From a hotel balcony, Widener was able to take pictures with a long lens—but then he ran out of film. So he sent Martsen on a desperate hunt for more, and Martsen returned with one single roll of Fuji color negative. It was on this film that Widener captured one of the most iconic images in history, the lone protester facing down a row of Chinese tanks.

“After I made the image, I asked Kirk if he could smuggle my film out of the hotel on his bicycle to the AP office at the Diplomatic Compound,” Widener says. “He agreed to do this for me as I had to stay in the hotel and wait for more supplies and could not risk being found out. I watched Kirk from my balcony, which was right over the area where the security was. In what seemed to be an eternity, Kirk unlocked his bike and started to pedal off, although a bit awkwardly because all my film was stashed in his underwear. Five hours later, a call to Mark Avery at the AP office in Beijing confirmed that the film had arrived and been transmitted world-wide. What I did not know until 20 years later was what actually transpired after Kirk pedaled the bicycle away.”

On the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, I wrote an article detailing each story behind the four different versions of the iconic scene on the Lens blog of the New York Times. At the time of publication, Widener wasn’t sure if the young man’s name was Kirk or Kurt. Soon after, Widener says, that changed: “I was on the computer and that familiar ‘You’ve Got Mail’ rang out on AOL. I could not believe who it was from. After 20 years, Kirk had found me because of the article in the New York Times.”

Widener discovered that Martsen encountered gunfire and more soldiers after he left with the precious film and that he became lost trying to navigate back streets to find the Associated Press office. Martsen went to the U.S. embassy and handed over the film to a U.S. Marine at the entrance, and told the embassy to forward the film to the AP office.

“Kirk risked his life,” Widener says. “If not for all of his efforts, my pictures may never have been seen.”

The next day, the image appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Courtesy Jeff Widener

Jeff Widener and his wife Corinna, whom he met while revisiting Tiananmen 20 years after he made the now-iconic photograph.

Years later, the BBC flew Widener back to China to revisit the Square where he made the iconic photo. While walking down Changan Avenue toward the square, Widener met a German teacher sitting on the sidewalk smoking. Widener introduced himself and they had lunch. They were married in July 2010. “If anyone had told me that I would return from that bullet-riddled street 20 years later to meet my future wife, I would have thought them nuts,” Widener says. “Fate has a strange sense of humor.”

Jeff Widener is an award-winning American photographer. See more of his work here.

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Shingo Kobayashi remembers what happened on March 11 of last year all too well. “It was the day our center was destroyed,” he says, resting his long fingers on a table at Minori-kai, a facility for the disabled in Natori, Japan. “It’s not there anymore.” He would be happy to talk about it but—he turns his wrist to show the face of his watch—it’s already a minute past 3:00 pm. And that’s when he leaves. Everyday. No matter what.

At Minori-kai, everyone’s day revolves around routine. And until 2:46 pm, March 11 was no exception. This center on Japan’s northeast coast, dedicated to the care of mentally and physically disabled members of the city, was established in 1984 as a support group for parents, but quickly evolved into the only option to help families care for adults with severe disabilities. Last March, four of Minori-kai’s five facilities, which serve 120 individuals, were destroyed, including a state-of-the-art center that the social welfare group had recently scraped together nearly $4 million to build.

At 2:46 pm, the staff and members of Minori-kai were having afternoon tea in the new center when a violent shaking rocked the building.“Everyone panicked,” recalls Akira Kasai, Minori-kai’s director. A staff member was able to check the news on his mobile phone and saw that there was a tsunami alert. As the center was less than a kilometer away from the sea, the staff made the immediate—and lifesaving—decision to pack everyone into the center’s buses and leave. “We threw away people’s wheelchairs and were carrying people to the buses,” recalls Kasai. As their caravan of buses raced inland toward the city hall, the members were quiet. “Nobody knew what was coming,” he says.

What was coming destroyed the huge swath of Natori that is still barren today. The debris of thousands of homes and businesses is heaped in massive piles on the water’s edge; the building where Minori-kai once stood is an empty dirt lot. Five members, including Kobayashi, lost their entire families. “It took a long time to confirm that their families had died,” says Suzuki. “It took even more time for them to understand. They slowly started to grasp that their family was gone.”

Without a live-in group home in Natori, all of the members whose caretakers died have had to leave town for facilities that could take them. Kobayashi was one of them. His mother, who was his sole guardian and who Suzuki says he rushed home to see at 3:00 pm each day, was killed in the tsunami. Suddenly, he was living with strangers for the first time in his life. Suzuki says it was not an easy transition. During a lunch break at an industrial waste recycling plant in Natori where he works during the day, Kobayashi polishes off his bento lunch and sits for a few minutes before going back on the clock. When asked about living at the group home, his eyes get red and he stares out the window over a steaming cup of miso. “Now, I like it,” he says. Tears let loose and track down his cheeks. “Now, I like it.”

Before the tsunami, Minori-kai had appealed to the city of Natori to put more money into welfare services for the disabled citizens like Kobayashi in the city. His mother knew she was getting older, and she and other parents had been increasingly anxious about what would happen to their children in the future. What was lost that day on March 11 was not only Minori-kai’s building. It was also their effort to reform this conservative town’s attitude toward the disabled. “The tsunami revealed the vulnerability of these people,” says Suzuki. “It revealed the necessity to take care of them.”

Rebuilding the facility will be the first step. For now, the day care for Minori-kai’s most disabled members is running out of an old veterinary hospital. On a Monday morning in late February, members arrive in the morning in a bluster, taking off their shoes in the entry hall and charging into the main activity room. Once inside, they visibly relax. Everyone finds their favorite spot—a chair at the table, a spot on the couch with the keyboard playing a bossanova track—and the day begins. It’s working, says Suzuki, but the space is not big enough. There is not enough room for the members to get outside and exercise and do sports, and no beds for them to rest during the day. “It’s a closed space,” she says. “Tension between the members is growing. They are louder and angrier than they were before.”

To rebuild a new facility, Minori-kai not only needs another $4 million—it needs land. But with everybody moving away from the coastal neighborhoods, inland plots are going for a premium that Minori-kai can’t afford. “Until we find the land, the city won’t approve the funding for the project,” says Suzuki. The organization has received some individual donations since the tsunami, and still gets about $85 per day for each patient from the national government. But all of this funding is only going to keeping up daily activities in the temporary facility, not toward building a new place that suits the needs of the members. “One year later, we’ve just started discussing the plan with the city government,” says Kasai. “In reality, these people don’t have any place to go if we aren’t doing this.”

Minori-kai is located at Miyagi prefecture, Natori City, Masuda. The organization accepts PayPal donations to la-minorikai@io.ocn.ne.jp and can be contacted by mail at Minori-kai / Miyagi-prefecture, Natori City , Masuda 5-3-12 / Japan 981-1224 / Attn: Mrs. H. Suzuki.

James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer. Follow him on Facebook here.

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Then two weeks ago, I returned to Japan. Things hadn't changed too much; little seemed to be rebuilt. But all those spaces were clean and somewhat empty this time.

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When the current incarnation of LightBox launched a year ago today, one of our very first posts featured the work of Eugene Richards, an American photographer who had released a book documenting the impact of the Iraq War on soldiers and their families. It’s been years since the book, War is Personal, hit shelves in September 2010, and even longer since Richards completed the project. In honor of that anniversary, LightBox caught up with Richards to discuss the way that photographs can follow a photographer.With War is Personal, Richards has found that it’s not just the images that draw him back in. “When you do a project like this, people keep occasionally popping back into your life,” he says.

Some of the subjects of the book have fallen out of touch with the photographer, while others he leaves alone, for now at least, feeling that it would be an intrusion to contact them before they want to be contacted. Still, others are still very much involved in the afterlife of the project. Richards knows that one combat medic featured in the project, suicidal at the time, has started law school and is doing well. Another of the subjects, already confined to a wheelchair, has seen his health deteriorate further in the months that have passed. And in one situation, Richards’ involvement with his subjects has gone past keeping tabs. Carlos Arredondo, featured in War is Personal as the father of a deceased soldier and as an antiwar activist, recently lost another son, Brian, to suicide. Because the Arredondo family was in financial trouble, and because the self-published War is Personal sold better than Richards had expected, the photographer and his team—along with the Nation Institute, which had given Richards a fellowship to work on the project—helped defray the cost of Brian’s funeral. The photographs in the gallery above were taken in the days around that event.

Eugene Richards

Carlos Arredondo holds a photograph of his son Alex. From Eugene Ricards' September 2010 book War Is Personal.

“The grief really took over Brian,” Arredondo told Richards. “But it’s not only those people who kill themselves who are suffering, but los familios.”

Richards, who already began two new projects in the past year, says he tries not to revisit stories after he finishes them. “I think all journalists try not to,” he says, “but then they come back to you, again and again and again.”

On one level, they come back as people, like the Arredondo family. On another, the stories come back as a consequence of the photographer’s immersion in the subject. Following an idea for long enough to create a large project about it means that the facts and emotions of its world become so familiar that, Richards says, they start to seep into every aspect of life. Something only tangentially related to a photograph taken a year or two years or twenty years ago can provoke the old perspective. “Suddenly you’re back to where you were at a different time,” says Richards.

Richards hasn’t taken any other additional photographs of the families from War is Personal, but he says he will probably return to the subject of war’s impact. Richards says he can’t turn away from people who are open to his journalistic curiosity and his camera’s presence. After all, there is no shortage of reasons to continue to snap away, no shortage of families affected by the country’s evolving military situation.

“This is the next round of response now that the declaration of war here is over, and perhaps people will come back from Afghanistan,” he predicts. “Concerns are going to grow and grow.”

Eugene Richards is an award-winning American photographer. See more of his work here.

Watch LightBox’s video about War is Personal here.

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In its first year, TIME’s photography blog, LightBox, has published well over 500 posts—an average of ten a week. We hope that the strength of LightBox has not only been evident in the quality of the work but also in the variety of photography showcased.

The site’s intent was established from the first post, a multimedia piece about Eugene Richards’ eloquent and moving War is Personal. Original essays by TIME’s contract photographers, most notably James Nachtwey in Japan and Yuri Kozyrev in Libya, set the bar for LightBox in its first weeks—and for photojournalism in general—in an unprecedented year of extraordinary consequence.

Alongside the work of art world luminaries including Rineke Dijkstra and Cindy Sherman was an essay on poverty by Joakim Eskildsen, which continued the tradition of publishing original work, commissioned for TIME, on the site. The eclectic mix of photography published on LightBox has ranged from rediscovered buried treasures (like the work of Joseph Szabo and Stephane Sednaoui) to stories supporting the work of young photographers, through pieces on the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund and profiles of photographers like Justin Maxon and Krisanne Johnson, as well the Next Generation photo contest. Alongside the work of professionals both young and old, there was work by amateur practitioners—an astronaut photographer, an accountant photographer of the homeless and the wonderful photographic memories of 1960s pre-Gaddafi Libya by Jehad Nga’s father. There have been the crowd-pleasing, unpublished photos of Johnny Cash and creative galleries edited from the wires, including Two Takes and Surprising Photos. And, of course, there was the daunting undertaking of 365: A Year in Photographs.

In the gallery above, some of TIME’s photo editors reflect on a year of tremendous images and recommend posts that are worth a second look. We’ll also be highlighting selections from more of the staff behind LightBox throughout the day on our Tumblr blog. We welcome suggestions from our readers as well, either in the comments below or on Twitter.

From all of us at LightBox, thanks for being a part of our beginning—and here’s to another year of great photography!

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Johnny Cash didn’t live lightly.

From picking cotton to help his impoverished, Depression-wracked family; to his exhausting tour schedule; to struggling with a serious drug addiction; to his songs about guns, murder, revenge, punishment and repentance—Johnny Cash was a troubled man who sought redemption through his music.

To commemorate what would be the county-music master’s 80th birthday on Feb. 26, several celebrations, projects and events are scheduled throughout the year. Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Ark. is being restored. Columbia/Legacy will release a series of archived recordings, starting with a collection of his gospel and spiritual songs from 1970s and ’80s called Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth, which will be available in April. A Johnny Cash Museum is scheduled to open this summer in Nashville.

And here on LightBox we have rare and unpublished photos of the Man in Black from the Sony Music Archive. Many of these images were taken by Don Hunstein, a prolific music photographer at Columbia records for 30 years, and date from the late ’50s to the early ’70s; they include pictures of Cash and his wife June right after she gave birth to their only son, John Carter Cash, in 1970, as well as the musician at home in California or fishing on his farm in San Antonio.

Johnny Cash was born to farmers in Kingsland, Ark. on Feb. 26, 1932. As the fourth of five children, he recalled in a 1969 TIME article that although his family was dirt poor, “I was never hungry a day in my life….at breakfast it was just fatback and biscuits—but that was plenty.” After high school, Cash worked at an auto plant in Pontiac, Mich. (where, as far as we know, he did not actually construct a car from stolen parts, as he later pretended to in his 1976 song “One Piece at a Time”). He joined the Air Force for a few years, and then in 1954 he married Vivian Liberto and the couple moved to Memphis.

Cash had always been musical—as a child he sang at the Dyess Central Baptist Church and he reportedly learned to play the guitar while in the Air Force —so when he moved to Memphis, he hooked up with two musicians, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, and auditioned for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. He recorded “Hey, Porter” and “Cry Cry Cry” for Phillips, the latter of which became his first hit, peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard’s Top 20 in 1955. He followed it up with “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line,” which shot up to No. 1 and stayed there for 43 weeks. It would sell over two million copies. (Cash’s stint at Sun Records was relatively shortlived; he switched to Columbia in 1958 because the Phillips wouldn’t let him record gospel music).

Cash then embarked the grueling journey that all newly-successful musicians must endure: days and weeks and months of endless touring. By 1957, he was giving more than 200 shows a year (by some accounts, he may have played closer to 300). His marriage was faltering. He drank too much. He became addicted to amphetamines. He accidentally started a forest fire in California. He was arrested for smuggling pills into the U.S. from Mexico. In 1966, his wife filed for divorce. And yet still he released hit song after hit song: “Ring of Fire,” “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” “I Got Stripes.” Johnny Cash was a troubled man, but not so troubled that he couldn’t turn his haunted words into song.

Cash toured with the Carter Family in the 1960s—and of course he would ultimately marry June Carter in 1968, after she helped him overcome his addiction and find his faith. The couple’s live recordings at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, in 1968 and 1969 respectively, are still two of the best concert albums ever released. They were married for 35 years, until her death in May 2003 from complications from heart surgery. Cash made it only four more months before joining her in September of the same year.

But this glossed over retelling of dates and events isn’t what’s important about Johnny Cash. The reason we remember him so fondly—and why we’re celebrating his birthday nine years after he passed—is the gift he had for music and the way he made us feel. Cash’s world-weary bass-baritone voice expressed a forlorn pain that, until we heard his songs, we didn’t even know we had. He gave a voice to the working man, the luckless, the outlaw, the convict—and to those of us who weren’t any of those things but who sometimes identified with them anyway.

“Well, we’re doing mighty fine, I do suppose / In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,” Cash once sang, “But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back / Up front there ought ‘a be a man in black.”

Thank you for being that man, Johnny Cash. Happy birthday.

Claire Suddath is a staff writer at TIME Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @clairesuddath or on Facebook.

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