Sunday, August 15, 2010

Iconic photographs

I have a thing for pictures that tell a story, and there are many of them. The stories they tell are appalling and shocking, heartbreaking and sad. They show a world of starvation, war, heartlessness and pure evil. They show the harsh reality so many people live in and though we might not want to see this side of life, I recon it’s important to know they’re out there.

Although we might not be able to help them it might help us to be more grateful for what we actually have ourselves.

The afghan girl, picture shot by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. Sharbat Gula was one of the students in an informal school within the refugee camp; McCurry, rarely given the opportunity to photograph Afghan women, seized the opportunity and captured her image. She was approximately 12 years old at the time. She made it on the cover of National Geographic next year, and her identity was discovered in 1992.

Afghan Girl

This photograph has become synonymous with The Battle of Gettysburg, which was the most bloody battle of the American Civil War. Photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan documented and recorded the battlefield, and this picture became a sensation.

For many, this was their first chance to see, first hand, the true extent of the Civil War. However, it was not until 40 years after the battle that the pictures were mass produced, as photo-engraving had not been established. The picture shows dead confederate soldiers on the battlefield.

Battle of Gettysburg

Alberto Korda took this picture of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, titled ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ or ‘Heroic Guerrilla’. It shows Che, as he was known, at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion.

Despite being one of the most reproduced images in history, Korda, a lifelong Communist and supporter of the Cuban Revolution, claimed no payment for his picture.

Che Guevara

Lawrence Beitler took this iconic photograph on August 7, 1930, showing the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, two young black men accused of raping a white girl.. It sold thousands of copies, which Beitler stayed up for 10 days and nights printing them.

It has become iconic over the years as it is one of the best and most recognisable images of lynching which at the time was commonplace, but now serves only as a reminder of the pre-Civil Rights era.

The photo shows a crowd that have turned out to view the lynching, and the audience a mixture of anger and fulfilment. The photo was so popular it has been the inspiration for many poems and songs down the years, “Strange Fruit” by the Jewish poet Abel Meeropol (later sung by Billie Holiday) being the best example.

Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith

Possibly the most talked-about, debated and controversial picture in history, the picture of the moon landing has been seen as a feat of human engineering at its best, and has been speculated as a hoax by contractors of the event.

Those in doubt of the authenticity of the picture have come up with many suggestions as to why and how it might have been faked. However, none of the accusations have been proved correct and the debate continues in some circles.

The American flag installs national pride in the US as the winners of the so-called “Space Race”, and their establishment as the world’s one remaining super power.

Moon Landing

This photo of a naked and terrified young girl running towards Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Nick Ut has entered popular culture as a symbol of the horror of the Vietnam War. It was taken during the American bombing of the village of Trang Bang, Vietnam.

It is said that this photo ended the war in Vietnam and served as an icon for the peace movement that was prevalent in the 1970s.

Napalm Strike

Often considered the most iconic photograph in history, “tank man” or “the unknown rebel” shows an act of courage and defiance and earned the anonymous man widespread fame.

It took place during the protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989, and has subsequently become a symbol of the end of the Cold War era, and one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. Four people claim to have took photos of the event, but the most reproduced image, and the most famous was by Jeff Widener.

Tank Man 

Kevin Carter's photo shows a heart-breaking scene of a starving child collapsed on the ground, struggling to get to a food center during a famine in the Sudan in 1993. In the background, a vulture stalks the emaciated child. It is a horrific picture that gave people a true look at the dire condition in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Carter was part of a group of four fearless photojournalists known as the "Bang Bang Club" who travelled throughout South Africa capturing the atrocities committed during apartheid.

He won a Pulitzer Prize for this work and came under a lot of scrutiny for spending over 20 minutes setting up the photo instead of helping the child. Three months after taking the photo, he committed suicide.

I have seen this picture several times through the years and it touches my heart more and more each time. It brings tears to my eyes and my heart aches for this little, helpless girl.

Vulture Stalking a Child

This image of a child in Uganda holding hands with a missionary shows big contrast between the two people and serves as a reminder of the difference in wealth between developed and developing countries.

Mike Wells, the photographer, took this picture to show the extent of starvation in Africa. He took it for a magazine, and when they went 5 months without printing it, he decided to enter it into a competition. However, Wells has stated that he is against winning a competition with a picture of a starving boy.


Photographer Eddie Adams took this picture of the execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan during the Vietnam War. Adams later apologized in person to General Nguyen and his family for the irreparable damage it did to Loan’s honour while he was alive.


Picture from an Einsatzgruppen soldier’s personal album, labelled on the back as “Last Jew of Vinnitsa”, it shows a member of Einsatzgruppe D is just about to shoot a Jewish man kneeling before a filled mass grave in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, in 1941. All 28,000 Jews from Vinnitsa and its surrounding areas were massacred at the time.

Last Jew of Vinnitsa