“A picture is worth a thousand words” – it’s a cliche, but with good reason. Pictures can capture layers of meaning in an instant, which is something words just can’t do. Since photography was invented, professionals and amateurs alike have preserved everything from everyday feelings to historical bombshells. There are some photos that just won’t let the viewer go; they continue to haunt us even years after the fact. Here are a handful of history’s most iconic photos:
The Great Depression
Taken in 1936, this photo of a mother and her children came to represent the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. The photographer, Dorothea Lange, took many other striking photos of that era (right).
The unknown rebel
Taken in 1989 by Charlie Cole from Newsweek, this photo of a person facing down tanks has become known as the “Tank Man” photo. At the time of the photo, the military had seized total control and the Tiananmen Square protests had been violently squashed. This single Chinese man stood in defiance. It’s unknown what happened to him.
Known as “Guerrillero Heroico,” this is one of the most recognized image of all time, and has been co-opted into pop art. Its popularity has troubled many, because many who wear the image fail to realize that Guevara was a complex person who has been called a war criminal and terrorist in addition to a hero who represents rebellion.
Taken by Arthur Sasse, this photo (right) was captured during Einstein’s birthday celebration. Tired of all the media attention and being told to smile, the scientist stuck out his tongue instead. People love this photo because it reveals so much about Einstein’s personality and how a genius can still have a sense of humor.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Australia, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were at the podium accepting their gold and bronze medals. When the National Anthem began, they raised their fists. All three medalists wore human rights badges, while Smith and Carlos wore articles of black clothing representing black poverty and black pride. When they went back home, they were harshly criticized; their families even received death threats. The image has come to represent the battle for civil rights (below).
The starving child
In 1993, Kevin Carter went to South Sudan and took this haunting photo of a starving girl and a vulture lurking nearby. The photo won him the Pulitzer, but also attracted harsh criticism, as he had waited 20 minutes to get the shot, and did not take the child to a food shelter. His defense was that he had been told not to touch famine victims, and that he had chased the bird away after the photo. A year after receiving the Pulitzer, Carter committed suicide. The photo raised ethical questions about photographers and what their responsibility was when in these types of situations.
The Afghan girl
In 1985, this photo of a 13-year old refugee appeared on the cover of National Geographic. It became one of its most famous images due to its subject’s striking expression. The girl’s identity was unknown until 2002. Her name is Sharbat Gula (left).
Called “The Blue Marble,” this is the one of the most widely-reproduced photos of all time (below). It was taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, and became the symbol of the environmental green movement.
In 2016, this photo of a young boy was taken as he waited in an ambulance. Named Omran, his house had just been demolished by an Assad-led airstrike in the city of Aleppo in Syria. After the photo appeared in The Telegraph, it was shared thousands of times on social media.