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Learn Digital Photography with Sandro Dzneladze

Famous Photographs That Changed The World

Written on May 06, 2010 by Sandro Dzneladze
Famous Photographs That Changed The World

What is it about photography that makes it such a powerful medium? The ability to capture images has inspired us beyond words and has provided us with many uses since its invention. There are very few things ever invented that have impacted the entire world quite like photography has. Photography makes a universal impact because it can accurately document and record people and things in a visual manner like nothing else.

Here is a listing of fifteen photographs that were powerful, compelling and went down in history. The photos are listed in chronological order, as they occurred in history.

First Photograph Ever Taken – View From the Window of Le Gras

The very first permanent photograph which was destroyed by accident later, was an image produced in 1822 by French inventor Joseph Niepce. View from the Window at Le Gras was the first permanent photograph created by Nicephore Niepce in 1826. Sunlight can be seen illuminating the buildings on each side of the grainy photo.

Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi

The image of four marines struggling to raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi, Japan is the most widely printed photograph of World War II. Taken by a U.S. Marine photographer under heavy Japanese fire in early 1945, the photo depicts America’s determination to take possession of the island. Photo by Joe Rosenthal

Afghan Girl

Taken in 1984 by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, the world famous shot of 12 year old Sharbat Gula captured the attention of the world with her unforgettably beautiful eyes and innocence amid widespread war and turmoil surrounding her.

Looking Down Sacramento Street

Taken on the morning of April 18, 1906, this photograph was taken by Arnold Genthe in San Francisco, California following the devastating earthquake that nearly destroyed the entire city and which sparked the great fire that engulfed the west coast American community.

Breaker Boys

Taken in 1910 in Pennsylvania of breaker boys, or children who were forced to work separating coal from slate. This photograph assisted in leading America to ban child labor. Photographer: Lewis Hine.

The Lynching of Young Blacks

A photograph taken in 1930 in the state of Indiana, USA after two young black men were hung. The two were accused of raping a white girl and were lynched by a mob of ten thousand whites. The faces on the people in the crowd depict clearly what the sentiment was towards blacks during those days. Photographer: Lawrence Beitler

Migrant Mother

Deemed the one photograph that gave a face to the Great Depression, legendary photographer Dorthea Lange snapped this shot in 1936 of a pea-picking migrant worker and her children in rural California. The woman in the picture’s name is Florence Thompson, mother of seven whose husband died of tuberculosis. The family sustained themselves by eating birds killed by her children and vegetables taken from a nearby field.

Hitler in Paris

Hitler’s army had just captured Paris when Hitler went there to admire his newly acquired city. This powerful photograph was taken in June of 1940.

The Last Jew in Vinnista

This chilling photograph was discovered in a personal photo album of an Einsatzgruppen soldier. There were twenty-eight thousand Jews living in Vinnista at the time and all were killed. The man in the photograph is about to lose his life as well. The photograph was taken in the summer of 1941.

VJ Day

Probably one of the most famous photographs taken during World War II, this shot was snapped in New York City in June of 1945. The couple was celebrating the end of the war in Times Square and were captured on film by Alfred Eisenstaedt. The couple’s identity was never confirmed, although many people have come forward to say it was them.

The Body of Che Guevara

This famous photograph was taken after Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara was killed by the Bolivian army in 1967. His death was detrimental to the socialist revolutionary movement in both Latin America and the Third World. Photo by Freddy Alborta.

Execution of a Viet Cong Guerrilla

Eddie Adams, an Associated Press photographer, just happened to be passing by when he snapped this photograph in Vietnam in 1968 of Nguyen Ngoc Loan, national police chief of South Vietnam shooting and killing a Viet Cong army captain. This photo turned public opinion against the war and won Adams a Pulitzer Prize.

Footprint on the Moon

When U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon in July of 1969, he and his comrades had television cameras with them. This is a shot of the first human footprint on the Moon, which will remain there for millions of years. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin took this photograph that astounded the world.

Phan Thi Kim Phuc

Taken in Vietnam in 1972, this photograph resonated around the world. The naked, horrified girl in the center of the picture is Kim Phuc who is fleeing a napalm attack which burned her back severely. This photograph is one of the most seen and republished of the Vietnam war era. Photograph by Nick Ut.

Tiananmen Square

Without a doubt, this photograph of one single defiant person blocking tanks from emerging onto the square tells the story of the radical student rebellion that occurred in China in 1989. The man was spared, but soon the square filled with people and much blood was shed. Photographer: Stuart Franklin.

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  • There are 8 comments on this post.
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    • Photographer Avatar Dave Wyatt February 9, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      Some glaring omssions here but more importantly, you really should be mentioning the photographer in each and every case. Just bad form to steal the images and not even have the courtesy to say who made them.

      • Photographer Avatar sandro February 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm

        Hello Dave,

        Could you emphasize on “omissions” please? I would like this post to be informative, and I would hate to have missed important photo.

        As for the photographer names; most images have little descriptions above them, mentioning the author. But I admit, there are few I had trouble with identifying the author.

        Now regarding the other issue you mentioned, I would like to give you my fair use rationale

        For non-free historic images “the images themselves are subject of commentary rather than the events they depict” These photos are subject of the article they are used in, and the article can validly claim fair use, for critical commentary and discussion, of the photographs that it is about.

        Because the photos are subject of the article, they can not be replaced with different photos.

        This is a famous image of the person in question.
        It is used here for purely encyclopedic purposes.
        It in no ways limits the ability of the photographer to market or sell his product.
        It would not decrease commercial demand for the original.
        It is not used or sold for profit.
        It is used in the context of an educational discussion regarding the image.
        The image itself *is* the subject of the article, so it could not be replaced with a free image.

        Thanks for commenting.


    • Photographer Avatar Dave Wyatt February 9, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      Hi Sandro,

      I emailed the missing photographers (McCurry is one of the only ones intially credited in your bits of text) before I saw your second reply here. I’ll cut and paste the list here:

      Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi is an image by Joe Rosenthal

      Breaker Boys is by Lewis Hine.

      The Lynching image is by Lawrence Beitler

      Not sure with the Hitler and Albert Speer image

      Body of Che Guevara is by Freddy Alborta

      The girl running away from her napalmed village is a very famous image by Nick Ut

      And finally the last one with missing info is the Tianamen Square image which was made by Stuart Franklin.

      Your fair use rationale is probably acceptable to most photographers (although certainly not all) however they would ALL expect a credit alongside their image, else what is to stop a picture researcher find the image here, not knowing who it was buy and so publishing it anyway assuming the image was free of copyright? To my mind this post has little criticism and as such the fair use arguement is pushing it but probably ok, but without full credits then not a chance.

      Oh, and for the most obvious omission from the edit you have chosen, Robert Capa’s D-day landing images, plus many more but editing is as much about what is left out as what is left in.

      I thank you though for bringing a couple of the images to my attention, I’d not seen that particular Lewis Hine before and until I looked it up, didn’t know Lawrence Beitler made the Lynching image. Sorry i can’t help with the Hitler image, only photographer of the Nazi era in Germany I know much about is Leni Riefenstahl and I have no idea if this is one of her images.

      All the best


    • Photographer Avatar sandro February 14, 2011 at 8:56 am

      I’ve updated the post to include the names of photographers corrected by Dave.


    • Photographer Avatar Ross September 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks for choosing these images Sandro, there are a few I wasn’t aware of.
      I am sure the photographers or their agents would have no problem with you publishing them and thus bringing the photographers to our attention.

    • Photographer Avatar Bobby September 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm

      Hello Sandro,

      On the photo by Joe Rosenthal of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi, there were, actually, 5 Marines and 1 Navy Corpsman raising the flag. During the battle for Iwo Jima, 3 of the Marines that raised the flag were killed and the 3 surviving flag raisers were flown home after the battle to help the war bond drive.

      Warm regards,

      Bobby B.

    • Photographer Avatar Nature Photographer June 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm

      The photograph footprint in the moon is my favorite in this list. It clearly portrays that we mankind are moving forward and more and more technologies are being developed. The first successful journey to the moon is indeed a great giant leap for mankind.

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