It is often said that a photograph is worth a thousand words. Famous photographs created throughout the history of the medium have managed to preserve iconic historical moments for generations to come. These photographers managed to freeze a moment in time, bringing a single vision to the larger world, triggering our emotions and influencing our worldviews. By capturing what matters, some of these images have managed to change the course of history. Even as technology advances, the role of the photojournalist will remain the same – to expand our awareness of the world.
The beginning of modern photojournalism can be traced to the 1925 Germany when the first 35mm camera, the Leica, was released. Before Leica, a photo of professional quality required bulky equipment. When the first simple-to-use small format cameras reached the streets, photography was completely democratized and revolutionized as a medium that greatly affected the visual culture. As opposed to posed images that were predominant up until then, photographers were finally able to create more natural photos and capture the way people really lived. Another invention that has contributed greatly to the development of photojournalism was the photojournalism magazine. Magazines in Germany and France started to publish whole sets of pictures to illustrate a story more effectively. Editors and photographers began to work together to produce an actual story told by pictures and words. In 1936, Henry Luce conceived a new general-interest magazine relying on modern photojournalism – the Life magazine. As photographers started to be increasingly commissioned to capture important and compelling stories all around the world, the Magnum Photos agency was founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and the others as a response to these new markets.
Often described as the illustration of an aspect of contemporary life by a series of pictures, photojournalism often overlaps with documentary and press photography that also brings the influence of a wider world into our lives. Yet, it distinguishes itself from these two types of photography by its “in-depth” nature. Relying on instinct and reaction, a photojournalist must learn how to sharpen their level of perception and organize their response to what they see.
We have compiled a list of the most iconic and famous photographs that have preserved some of the most important and compelling moments of human existence. Scroll down and enjoy!
Featured images: Alberto Korda - Guerrillero Heroico, 1960; Stuart Franklin - Tank Man, 1989; Nick Ut - The Napalm Girl, 1972; Juan Guzman - Marina Ginesta at the top of Hotel Colon in Barcelona, 1936; All images used are for illustration purpose only.
The iconic photograph Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange is one of a series of photographs that the photographer made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in 1936 in Nipomo, California in a camp filled with field workers whose livelihoods were devastated by the failure of the pea crops. Lange explained she was drawn to the hungry and desperate mother and asked her to make a few shots. The mother and her children were living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. This famous photo became a symbol of the plight of migrant farm workers during the Great Depression.
Featured image: Dorothea Lange - Migrant Mother
We continue our list of the most famous photographs with a photo titled The Falling Soldier, taken in 1936 by Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War. It was said that it depicts the death of a soldier named Federico Borrel Garcia. The soldier is collapsing backward after being fatally shot in the head. Recalling the moment he took the photo, Capa explained he had been in a trench with soldiers, and when they moved over the trench, he put a camera above his head and clicked without even looking. Yet, ever since the 1970s, there have been an ongoing authenticity debate regarding the location, the identity of its subject. Additionally, it has been discovered that several staged photographs have been taken at the same time and place.
Featured image: Robert Capa - The Falling Soldier, 1936
The famous photograph of Marina Ginestà was taken by Juan Guzmán on the rooftop of Hotel Colón during the July 1936 military uprising in Barcelona. As a member of Socialist Youth at the time, she served as a reporter and a translator assisting Mikhail Koltsov, a correspondent of the Soviet newspaper Pravda. Since she was a reporter, this was an only time she was carrying a gun. Marina remained a militant throughout the rest of the war and collaborated with a variety of leftist groups. Even though the image became iconic and it was printed and circulated everywhere, Marina did not know about it until 2006.
Featured image: Juan Guzmán - Marina Ginestà at the top of Hotel Colón in Barcelona, 21 July, 1936
Regarded as majestic sky machines that signified wealth and power, the arrival of zeppelins was big news. On May 6th, 1937 Sam Shere was waiting at the Lakehurst, N.J. Naval Air Station for the LZ 129 Hindenburg to drift in from Frankfurt. But, as it was taking off, the flammable hydrogen caught fire, and the ship spectacularly burst into flames and killed 36 people. Shere managed to capture one of the most famous photographs of the tragedy - an image that was three decades later used on the cover of the Led Zeppelin album. As iconic as the photo itself is the anguished voice of the Chicago radio announcer Herbert Morrison: “It is bursting into flames… This is terrible! This is one of the worst catastrophes in the world… Oh, the humanity!”
Featured image: Sam Shere - The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937
The iconic photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima was taken by Joe Rosenthal on February 23rd, 1945. It depicts US Marines raising a flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Rosenthal later recalled: “The sky was overcast. The wind just whipped the flag out over the heads of the group, and their feet the disrupted terrain and the broken stalks of the shrubbery exemplified the turbulence of war”. The three of the marines depicted were killed in action over the next few days. This famous photo was reprinted in numerous publications and it has received the Pulitzer Prize for Photography the same year it was first published.
Featured image: Joe Rosenthal - Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, 1945
In search of a storytelling moment in the joyous tumult at Times Square at the end of the World War II, Alfred Eisenstaedt captured a joyous sailor holding and kissing a nurse. Capturing the jubilance people felt upon the war’s end, the image soon became the most famous picture of the 20th century and the basis of our collective memory of the transformative moment in the world history. Yet, the image has taken on a sinister shade recently, when it was revealed that the sailor George Mendonsa planted a kiss on a complete stranger, 21-year-old Greta Zimmer, and continued on his way, sparking debates about the possibility of a sexual assault.
Featured image: Alfred Eisenstaedt - V-J Day in Times Square, via keepsnap.com
One of the most famous photographs is surely this iconic portrait of Che Guevara titled Guerrillero Heroico. The photo was taken by Alberto Korda on March 5th, 1960 in Havana at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion. As the photographer explained, he was drawn to Guevara’s facial expression which showed “absolute implacability”, as well as anger and pain. He stated that the photo showed his firm and stoic character. This famous photo helped solidify the charismatic and controversial leader as a cultural icon, becoming a symbol of the 20th century. The image has been subsequently capitalized, commercialized and exploited in a variety of ways in the consumer market.
Featured image: Alberto Korda - Guerrillero Heroico
On June 8th, 1972, the photographer Nick Ut captured children fleeing from a Napalm bombing during the Vietnam War. Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the girl in the center of the photo, was 9 years old at the time and was naked from having her clothes burned off. The photographer has immediately taken the badly hurt children to the hospital, saving their lives. The photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for “The Terror of War”, but it also became one of the most memorable photographs of the 20th century. It is one of the most searing and influential pictures of the Vietnam War, depicting graphically all the atrocities of this war to the general public around the world.
Featured image: Nick Ut - The Napalm Girl, via pinterest.com
On June 5th, 1989, the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests by force, an unidentified man stood on the square in front of a column of tanks. As the lead tank maneuvered to pass by him, he repeatedly shifted his position in order to obstruct it. This heroic act of the man now popularly known as Tank Man became one of the most famous photography moments, and was captured by several photographers - Stuart Franklin, Charlie Cole, Jeff Widener, and Arthur Tsang Hin Wang. Standing by Franklin, Cole later recalled: "I think his action captured peoples’ hearts everywhere, and when the moment came, his character defined the moment, rather than the moment defining him. He made the image. I was just one of the photographers. And I felt honored to be there."
Featured image: Stuart Franklin - Tank Man, via businessinsider.com
The photograph titled Situation Room was taken by White House photographer Pete Souza on May 1st, 2011. It shows the former President of the United States Barack Obama along his national security team receiving live updates from Operation Neptune Spear, which led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. President Obama later stated he believed the picture was taken about the time the room's occupants were informed or realized that one of the raid's helicopters had crashed. The photographer recalled he has made approximately 100 photographs, jammed into a corner of the small conference room with no room to move.
Featured image: Pete Souza - The Situation Room. All images used for illustrative purposes only.
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