There are more than a million pictures taken every day, and with smartphones having such good cameras, it has become so much easier to take pictures whenever we want. However, there are some pictures that stand out from the rest because they show things that matter and bring attention to important events that have taken place throughout history. We have collected a bunch of pictures that are definitely going to inspire you and show you how the world has changed over the years. These pictures are considered to be some of the most influential pictures of all time.
Lunch Atop A Skyscraper, 1932
This picture was part of a promotional campaign and it shows the resilience and bravery of the American construction workers. Every iron worker in America has seen this picture of the 11 men having their lunch 840 feet above New York City. They get the sense that they are not alone in their line of work, and yet the photographer and the men in the picture remain nameless to this day.
Tank Man, Jeff Widener, 1989
This picture was taken on June 5, 1989, a day after the Chinese army had massacred the pro-democracy demonstrators. The photographer, Jeff Widener from the Associated Press, was sitting in his hotel balcony waiting to document the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He was taking pictures of the victims and other people on the street when he came across this sight. A man standing in the path of the tanks and refusing to let them proceed.
Falling Man, Richard Drew, 2001
Most of the pictures from the 9/11 attack on New York City are of the WTC collapsing or the airplanes hitting the towers. However, the picture above is one of a kind and it depicts a man taking charge of his own life and choosing the way that he is going to die. In an attempt to escape the collapsing buildings, this unknown man jumped from the window of the Twin Towers and was immortalised by Richard Drew.
Earthrise, William Anders, NASA, 1968
This picture was taken on December 8, 1968 by Astronaut William Anders when he was on the Apollo 8 space mission. “Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!” Anders exclaimed. He snapped a picture in black and white. Lovell scrambled to find a color canister. “Well, I think we missed it,” Anders said. Lovell looked through windows three and four. “Hey, I got it right here!” he exclaimed. A weightless Anders shot to where Lovell was floating and fired his Hasselblad. “You got it?” Lovell asked. “Yep,” Anders answered.
Mushroom Cloud Over Nagasaki, Lieutenant Charles Levy, 1945
This is the destruction that Fat Man did on Nagasaki. The bomb was dropped by US forces on Japan during the Second World War. The result of the 20-kiloton weapon was captured by Charles Levy and he took 16 pictures of the mushroom cloud that rose up from the destruction. “It was purple, red, white, all colors—something like boiling coffee. It looked alive.”
VJ Day In Times Square, Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945
This is a famous picture of a sailor and a nurse celebrating the end of the Second World War. The photographer was looking for a moment that would capture the joy and relief that the people felt when the war was finally over. This was the moment that he felt most expressed the joy and the hope for a better tomorrow that the people all over the world were feeling. “People tell me that when I’m in heaven,” Eisenstaedt said, “they will remember this picture.”
Pillars Of Creation, Nasa, 1995
This picture was captured by the Hubble Telescope on April 1, 1995. The image was one of the first clear images that the telescope captured and it was named the Pillars of Creation. The telescope had actually captured the Eagle Nebula, a star-forming patch of space 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Serpens Cauda. The pillars are actually clouds of interstellar dust that have been blown into this shape by the winds from the nearby stars.
A Man On The Moon, Neil Armstrong, Nasa, 1969
While Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon by a few minutes, Aldrin achieved a different kind of immortality. He was the first person to be photographed on the moon and he didn’t care about being the second person to land on the moon.
Jewish Boy Surrenders In Warsaw, 1943
This little boy was one of the half million Jews who had taken up residence in the Warsaw Ghetto. In the beginning of July 1942, the Germans began to ship nearly 5,000 Warsaw inhabitants every day to concentration camps. When the news of the exterminations of the Jews reached back home, they began to form resistance groups. “We saw ourselves as a Jewish underground whose fate was a tragic one,” wrote its young leader Mordecai Anielewicz. “For our hour had come without any sign of hope or rescue.”
Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange, 1936
Driving past the crude “Pea-Pickers Camp” sign in Nipomo, north of Los Angeles, Dorothea Lange kept going for 20 miles. Something nagged at the photographer from the government’s Resettlement Administration, and she finally turned around. At the camp, the Hoboken, N.J.–born Lange spotted Frances Owens Thompson and knew she was in the right place. “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother in the sparse lean-to tent, as if drawn by a magnet,” Lange later wrote. Migrant Mother was one of the 160,000 pictures taken by Lange and other photographers and it has become the most iconic depiction of the Great Depression.
The Hindenburg Disaster, Sam Shere, 1937
Zeppelins were majestic skyliners, luxurious behemoths that signified wealth and power. Sam Shere of the International News Photos service was waiting in the rain at the Lakehurst, N.J., Naval Air Station on May 6, 1937, for the 804-foot-long LZ 129 Hindenburg to drift in from Frankfurt. All of a sudden, the giant ship’s flammable hydrogen caught fire and everything went up in yellow flames. The death toll was at 36 and Shere’s picture was the one that was able to capture the immediate shot of the tragedy.
Guerrillero Heroico, Alberto Korda, 1960
The day before Alberto Korda took his iconic photograph of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, a ship had exploded in Havana Harbor, killing the crew and dozens of dockworkers. Covering the funeral for the newspaper Revolución, Korda focused on Fidel Castro, who in a fiery oration accused the U.S. of causing the explosion. The two frames he shot of Castro’s young ally were a seeming afterthought, and they went unpublished by the newspaper. But after Guevara was killed leading a guerrilla movement in Bolivia nearly seven years later, the Cuban regime embraced him as a martyr for the movement, and Korda’s image of the beret-clad revolutionary soon became its most enduring symbol. In short order, Guerrillero Heroico was appropriated by artists, causes and admen around the world, appearing on everything from protest art to underwear to soft drinks.
Dalí Atomicus, Philippe Halsman, 1948
This elaborate scene was created by Halsman as an attempt to capture the lifework of his friend Salvador Dalí. He knew that a simple portrait shot would not suffice and do justice to the artist so he created this elaborate scene with the artist’s original work: a floating chair and an in-progress easel suspended by thin wires. The perfect shot came after 26 takes.
View From The Window At Le Gras, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1826
This was one of the first images to be captured by camera. The person who captured the picture was an inventor and not an artist and he was just looking for a way to produce images other than drawing them on stone using oil-based ink. He set up a device known as camera obscura and captured the above scene which was illuminated by sunlight.
Leap Into Freedom, Peter Leibing, 1961
In order to stop the East Germans from fleeing the Soviet section of Germany post Second World War, East German leader Walter Ulbricht had a barbed-wire-and-cinder-block barrier thrown up in early August 1961. Peter Leibing was tipped off that someone was going to defect, and he and other cameramen gathered and watched as a West Berlin crowd enticed 19-year-old border guard Hans Conrad Schumann, yelling to him, “Come on over!” Schumann was the first reported East German soldier to flee.
The Hand Of Mrs. Wilhelm Röntgen, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, 1895
This is the first medical X-ray ever to be taken. There were countless pictures of Mrs. Röntgen’s hand but this is the one that has survived over time. Wilhelm had spent weeks working in his lab, experimenting with a cathode tube that emitted different frequencies of electromagnetic energy. Some, he noticed, appeared to penetrate solid objects and expose sheets of photographic paper. He used the strange rays, which he aptly dubbed x-rays, to create shadowy images of the inside of various inanimate objects and then, finally, one very animate one.
Flag Raising On Iwo Jima, Joe Rosenthal, 1945
The Americans needed Iwo Jima, a tiny island about 760 miles south of Tokyo, as an air base, but the Japanese had dug in. U.S. troops landed on February 19, 1945, beginning a month of fighting that claimed the lives of 6,800 Americans and 21,000 Japanese. On the fifth day of battle, the Marines captured Mount Suribachi. The victors raised an American flag but a commander wanted an even bulkier flag to be raised in order to inspire the American troops and demoralize the Japanese. Five Marines and a Navy corpsman put in their entire weight to raise the flag.
Emmett Till, David Jackson, 1955
Emmett Till, a black teenager, was visiting relatives in Mississippi in August 1955 when he stopped at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. He came across Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. It is not known whether he whistled at her or flirted with her. What is known is that four days later, Bryant’s husband and half brother picked up Till from his relative’s house, beat him, shot him, strung a barbed wire with a 75-pound metal fan around his neck and then dropped his body in the river.
Cotton Mill Girl, Lewis Hine, 1908
Hine was an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee and he would often disguise himself as a Bible seller, insurance agent or industrial photographer just so he could capture the plight of the children and show it to the world. Hine recorded children working in meatpacking houses, coal mines and canneries.
Hitler At A Nazi Party Rally, Heinrich Hoffmann, 1934
Hoffmann joined the party in 1920 and he was responsible for showcasing Hitler on his growing pageant of power. He was Hitler’s personal photographer and confidant. This is one of the best pictures of Hitler that Hoffmann took on September 30, 1934. The image is perfectly symmetrical and it was taken at the Bückeberg Harvest Festival.
Gandhi And The Spinning Wheel, Margaret Bourke-White, 1946
The British had held Gandhi as their prisoner at Yerwada prison in Pune, India, from 1932 to 1933. During his time in prison, Gandhi would make his own thread using a Charkha, a portable spinning wheel. Gandhi encouraged his countrymen to spin their own wheels and make their own threads instead of buying cloth from the British. Today, the Charkha of Gandhi is just as famous as the man himself.
Fetus, 18 Weeks, Lennart Nilsson, 1965
This was the first time that the world was publicly shown what the human fetus actually looks like. It was in Nilsson’s essay, Drama of Life Before Birth, and it sold out within a matter of days just because it gave the world a view of what the fetus looked like. LIFE published the essay and explained that all but one of the fetuses pictured were photographed outside the womb and had been removed—or aborted—“for a variety of medical reasons.”
D-Day, Robert Capa, 1944
Robert Capa was the only photographer among 34,250 soldiers who were on Omaha Beach on D-Day. His photographs were the ones which gave an insight into the war and showed the Americans what was going on in the war. The images are grainy because of all the intense action that was happening around him.
The Pillow Fight, Harry Benson, 1964
Benson was planning to cover the news in Africa when he was assigned to the Beatles in Paris. “I took myself for a serious journalist and I didn’t want to cover a rock ’n’ roll story,” he scoffed. But once he met the boys from Liverpool and heard them play, Benson had no desire to leave. “I thought, ‘God, I’m on the right story.’ ” His pillow-fight photo was taken in the swanky George V Hotel the night the band found out “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit No. 1 in the U.S.
The Face Of Aids, Therese Frare, 1990
This is a picture of David Kirby, surrounded by his family, on his deathbed because of AIDS. This picture of the 32-year old humanized AIDS and showed more than just a heartbreaking moment. This image was used by clothing brand Benetton in a series of ads in order to promote awareness of the disease.
First Cell-Phone Picture, Philippe Kahn, 1997
In 1997, Philippe Kahn was stuck in a Northern California maternity ward with nothing to do. His wife was in the maternity ward and was giving birth to their daughter and he was shooed away. Phillippe, out of boredom, jerry-built a device that could send a photo of his newborn to friends and family—in real time. The setup was crude and yet, this was the first image that was taken and sent via a cell phone device.
Raising A Flag Over The Reichstag, Yevgeny Khaldei, 1945
After four years of fighting and photographing across Eastern Europe, the Red Army soldier arrived in the heart of the Nazis’ homeland armed with his Leica III rangefinder and a massive Soviet flag that his uncle, a tailor, had fashioned for him from three red tablecloths. Adolf Hitler had committed suicide two days before, yet the war still raged as Khaldei made his way to the Reichstag. There he told three soldiers to join him, and they clambered up broken stairs onto the parliament building’s blood-soaked parapet.
Behind Closed Doors, Donna Ferrato, 1982
Ferrato, who had come to know the couple through a photo project on wealthy swingers, knew that simply bearing witness wasn’t enough. Her shutter clicked again and again. Ferrato approached magazine editors to publish the images, but all refused. So Ferrato did, in her 1991 book Living With the Enemy. The landmark volume chronicled domestic-violence episodes and their aftermaths, including those of the pseudonymous Garth and Lisa.
Muhammad Ali Vs. Sonny Liston, Neil Leifer, 1965
In Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965, a 23-year-old heavyweight boxing champion, named Muhammad Ali, squared off against 34-year-old Sonny Liston, the man he’d snatched the title from the previous year. One minute and 44 seconds into the first round, Ali’s right fist connected with Liston’s chin and Liston went down. Leifer snapped the photo of the champ towering over his vanquished opponent and taunting him, “Get up and fight, sucker!”
The Situation Room, Pete Souza, 2011
On May 1, 2011, Pete Souza was inside the Situation Room as U.S. forces raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and killed the terrorist leader. Yet Souza’s picture includes neither the raid nor bin Laden. Instead, he captured those watching the secret operation in real time. President Barack Obama made the decision to launch the attack, but like everyone else in the room, he is a mere spectator to its execution. He stares, brow furrowed, at the raid unfolding on monitors. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton covers her mouth, waiting to see its outcome. In a national address that evening from the White House, Obama announced that bin Laden had been killed.
Nuit De Noel, Malick Sidibe, 1963
Nicknamed the Eye of Bamako, Sidibé took thousands of photos that became a real-time chronicle of the euphoric zeitgeist gripping the capital, a document of a fleeting moment. “Everyone had to have the latest Paris style,” he observed of young people wearing flashy clothes, straddling Vespas and nuzzling in public as they embraced a world without shackles. On Christmas Eve in 1963, Sidibé happened on a young couple at a club, lost in each other’s eyes.
Saigon Execution, Eddie Adams, 1968
Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was on the streets of Saigon on February 1, 1968 and he came upon Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, standing alongside Nguyen Van Lem, the captain of a terrorist squad who had just killed the family of one of Loan’s friends. Adams thought he was watching the interrogation of a bound prisoner. But as he looked through his viewfinder, Loan calmly raised his .38-caliber pistol and fired a bullet through Lem’s head.
Black Power Salute, John Dominis, 1968
The Olympics are intended to be a celebration of global unity. But when the American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos ascended the medal stand at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, they were determined to shatter the illusion that all was right in the world. Just before “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play, Smith, the gold medalist, and Carlos, the bronze winner, bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists in the air. Their message could not have been clearer: Before we salute America, America must treat blacks as equal..
The Horse In Motion, Eadweard Muybridge, 1878
When a horse trots or gallops, does it ever become fully airborne? This was the question photographer Eadweard Muybridge set out to answer in 1878. Railroad tycoon and former California governor, Leland Stanford, was convinced the answer was yes and commissioned Muybridge to provide proof. Muybridge developed a way to take photos with an exposure lasting a fraction of a second and, with reporters as witnesses, arranged 12 cameras along a track on Stanford’s estate. As a horse sped by, it tripped wires connected to the cameras, which took 12 photos in rapid succession. Muybridge developed the images on site and, in the frames, revealed that a horse is completely aloft with its hooves tucked underneath it for a brief moment during a stride.
Abraham Lincoln, Mathew Brady, 1860
Abraham Lincoln was just a one-term Congressman from Illinois when he came to deliver a speech at the Cooper Union in New York City in 1860. He knew that the speech had to be perfect but he was also concerned about his image. He went to the Broadway photography studio of Mathew B. Brady. He set the gangly rail splitter in a statesmanlike pose, tightened his shirt collar to hide his long neck and retouched the image to improve his looks. In a click of a shutter, Brady dispelled talk of what Lincoln said were “rumors of my long ungainly figure … making me into a man of human aspect and dignified bearing.”
Bandit’s Roost, Mulberry Street, Jacob Riis, Circa 1888
Late 19th-century New York City was a magnet for the world’s immigrants. Riis ventured into the city’s most ominous neighborhoods with his blinding magnesium flash powder lights, capturing the casual crime, grinding poverty and frightful overcrowding. Most famous of these was Riis’ image of a Lower East Side street gang, which conveys the danger that lurked around every bend.
Milk Drop Coronet, Harold Edgerton, 1957
In the 1950s at his lab at MIT, Edgerton started tinkering with a process that would change the future of photography. There, the electrical-engineering professor combined high-tech strobe lights with camera shutter motors to capture moments imperceptible to the naked eye. Milk Drop Coronet, his revolutionary stop-motion photograph, freezes the impact of a drop of milk on a table, a crown of liquid discernible to the camera for only a millisecond. The picture proved that photography could advance human understanding of the physical world.
Surfing Hippos, Michael Nichols, 2000
Nichols and the National Geographic Society explorer Michael Fay undertook an arduous 2,000-mile trek from the Congo in central Africa to Gabon on the continent’s west coast. That was where Nichols captured a photograph of something astonishing—hippopotamuses swimming in the midnight blue Atlantic Ocean. It was an event few had seen before—while hippos spend most of their time in water, their habitat is more likely to be an inland river or swamp than the crashing sea.
Moonlight: The Pond, Edward Steichen, 1904
Steichen photographed the wooded scene in Mamaroneck, N.Y., hand-colored the black-and-white prints with blue tones and may have even added the glowing moon. The blurring of two mediums was the aim of Pictorialism, which was embraced by professional photographers at the turn of the 20th century as a way to differentiate their work from amateur snapshots taken with newly available handheld cameras. And no single image was more formative than Moonlight.
The Vanishing Race, Edward S. Curtis, 1904
Native Americans were the great casualty of the U.S.’s grand westward advance. Fearing the imminent disappearance of America’s first inhabitants, Edward S. Curtis sought to document the assorted tribes, to show them as a noble people—“the old time Indian, his dress, his ceremonies, his life and manners.” Over more than two decades, Curtis turned these pictures and observations into The North American Indian, a 20-volume chronicle of 80 tribes. No single image embodied the project better than The Vanishing Race, his picture of Navajo riding off into the dusty distance.
Betty Grable, Frank Powolny, 1943
For that platinum blond, blue-eyed Hollywood starlet had a set of gams that inspired American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to go forth and save civilization from the Axis powers. Frank Powolny brought Betty to the troops by accident. A photographer for 20th Century Fox, he was taking publicity pictures of the actress for the 1943 film Sweet Rosie O’Grady when she agreed to a “back shot.” The studio turned the coy pose into one of the earliest pinups, and soon troops were requesting 50,000 copies every month.
Case Study House No. 22, Los Angeles, Julius Shulman, 1960
For years on end, the California Dream meant the chance to own a stucco home on a sliver of paradise. Julius Shulman helped change all that. In May 1960, the Brooklyn-born photographer headed to architect Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, a glass-enclosed Hollywood Hills home with a breathtaking view of Los Angeles—one of 36 Case Study Houses that were part of an architectural experiment extolling the virtues of modernist theory and industrial materials. None of his other pictures was more influential than the one he took of Case Study House No. 22. To show the essence of this air-breaking cantilevered building, Shulman set two glamorous women in cocktail dresses inside the house, where they appear to be floating above a mythical, twinkling city.
99 Cent, Andreas Gursky, 1999
In a single large-scale image digitally stitched together from multiple images taken in a 99 Cents Only store in Los Angeles, the seemingly endless rows of stuff, with shoppers’ heads floating anonymously above the merchandise, more closely resemble abstract or Impressionist painting than contemporary photography. Which was precisely Gursky’s point. From the Tokyo stock exchange to a Mexico City landfill, the German architect and photographer uses digital manipulation and a distinct sense of composition to turn everyday experiences into art.
Blind, Paul Strand, 1916
Strand wanted to capture people as they were, not as they projected themselves to be, and so when documenting immigrants on New York City’s Lower East Side, he used a false lens that allowed him to shoot in one direction even as his large camera was pointed in another. Strand’s photograph of the blind woman, who he said was selling newspapers on the street, is candid, with the woman’s face turned away from the camera.
The Loch Ness Monster, 1934
Here we have the Loch Ness monster, purportedly taken by British doctor Robert Wilson in April 1934. Wilson, however, had simply been enlisted to cover up an earlier fraud by wild-game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell, who had been sent to Scotland by London’s Daily Mail to bag the monster. There being no monster to bag, Wetherell brought home photos of hippo prints that he said belonged to Nessie. The Mail caught on and discredited Wetherell, who then returned to the loch with a monster made out of a toy submarine.
Windblown Jackie, Ron Galella, 1971
This is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the beautiful young widow of the murdered President who married a fabulously wealthy Greek shipping tycoon. She was a public figure with a tightly guarded private life, which made her a prime target for the photographers who followed wherever she went. And none was as devoted to capturing the former First Lady as Ron Galella. One of the original freewheeling celebrity shooters, Galella created the model for today’s paparazzi with a follow-and-ambush style. The picture, which Galella proudly called “my Mona Lisa,” exudes the unguarded spontaneity that marks a great celebrity photo.
The Hooded Man, Sergeant Ivan Frederick, 2003
The most memorable image from the war was taken not by a professional but by a U.S. Army staff sergeant named Ivan Frederick. In the last three months of 2003, Frederick was the senior enlisted man at Abu Ghraib prison, the facility on the outskirts of Baghdad that Saddam Hussein had made into a symbol of terror for all Iraqis, then being used by the U.S. military as a detention center for suspected insurgents. Frederick was one of several soldiers who took part in the torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. All the more incredible was that they took thousands of images of their mistreatment, humiliation and torture of detainees with digital cameras and shared the photographs. The most widely disseminated was “the Hooded Man.”
American Gothic, Gordon Parks, 1942
As the 15th child of black Kansas sharecroppers, Gordon Parks knew poverty. But he didn’t experience virulent racism until he arrived in Washington in 1942. Parks, who would go on to became the first African-American photographer at LIFE, was stunned. “White restaurants made me enter through the back door. White theaters wouldn’t even let me in the door,” he recalled. Refusing to be cowed, Parks searched out older African Americans to document how they dealt with such daily indignities and came across Ella Watson, who worked in the FSA’s building. He photographed Watson as she went about her day, culminating in his American Gothic, a clear parody of Grant Wood’s iconic 1930 oil painting.
Invasion Of Prague, Josef Koudelka, 1968
Fearing that Dubcek’s human-rights reforms would lead to a democratic uprising like the one in Hungary in 1956, Warsaw Bloc forces set out to quash the movement. Their tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia on August 20, 1968. Josef Koudelka, a young Moravian-born engineer who had been taking wistful and gritty photos of Czech life, was in the capital when the soldiers arrived. He took pictures of the swirling turmoil and created a groundbreaking record of the invasion that would change the course of his nation. The most seminal piece includes a man’s arm in the foreground, showing on his wristwatch the exact time of the Soviet invasion with a deserted street in the distance.
Bosnia, Ron Haviv, 1992
The war in Bosnia had not yet begun when American Ron Haviv took this picture of a Serb kicking a Muslim woman who had been shot by Serb forces. Haviv was determined to document the cruelty he was witnessing and, in a split second, decided to risk it. TIME published the photo a week later, and the image of casual hatred ignited broad debate over the international response to the worsening conflict.
Boulevard Du Temple, Louis Daguerre, 1839
Louis Daguerre’s groundbreaking image of the man and a customer is the first known instance of human beings captured in a photograph. Before Daguerre, people had only been represented in artwork. That changed when Daguerre fixed his lens on a Paris street and then exposed a silver-plated sheet of copper for several minutes, developed and fixed the image using chemicals. The result was the first mirror-image photograph.
Winston Churchill, Yousuf Karsh, 1941
In December 1941, soon after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and America was pulled into the war, Churchill visited Parliament in Ottawa to thank Canada and the Allies for their help. Churchill wasn’t aware that Yousuf Karsh had been tasked to take his portrait afterward, and when he came out and saw the Turkish-born Canadian photographer, he demanded to know, “Why was I not told?” Churchill then lit a cigar, puffed at it and said to the photographer, “You may take one.” As Karsh prepared, Churchill refused to put down the cigar. So once Karsh made sure all was ready, he walked over to the Prime Minister and said, “Forgive me, sir,” and plucked the cigar out of Churchill’s mouth. “By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent, he could have devoured me. It was at that instant that I took the photograph.”
Munich Massacre, Kurt Strumpf, 1972
The Olympics celebrate the best of humanity, and in 1972 Germany welcomed the Games to exalt its athletes, tout its democracy and purge the stench of Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Games. The Germans called it “the Games of peace and joy,” and as Israeli fencer Dan Alon recalled, “Taking part in the opening ceremony, only 36 years after Berlin, was one of the most beautiful moments in my life.” Security was lax so as to project the feeling of harmony. Unfortunately, this made it easy on September 5 for eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September to raid the Munich Olympic Village building, housing Israeli Olympians. During the siege, one of the Black Septemberists made his way out onto the apartment’s balcony. As he did, Associated Press photographer Kurt Strumpf froze this haunting image, the faceless look of terror.
JFK Assassination, Frame 313, Abraham Zapruder, 1963
This 8-millimeter film captured the death of a President. It is the source of countless conspiracy theories and also the source of true tragedy. Amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder had eagerly set out with his Bell & Howell camera on the morning of November 22, 1963, to record the arrival of his hero. Yet as Zapruder filmed, one bullet struck Kennedy in the back, and as the President’s car passed in front of Zapruder, a second one hit him in the head.
Kent State Shootings, John Paul Filo, 1970
The shooting at Kent State University in Ohio lasted 13 seconds. When it was over, four students were dead, and nine were wounded. The demonstrators were part of a national wave of student discontent spurred by the new presence of U.S. troops in Cambodia. At the Kent State Commons, protesters assumed that the National Guard troops that had been called to contain the crowds were firing blanks. But when the shooting stopped and students lay dead, it seemed that the war in Southeast Asia had come home. John Filo, a student and part-time news photographer, distilled that feeling into a single image when he captured Mary Ann Vecchio crying out and kneeling over a fatally wounded Jeffrey Miller.
The Falling Soldier, Robert Capa, 1936
Robert Capa made his seminal photograph of the Spanish Civil War without ever looking through his viewfinder. This picture is widely considered to be one of the best combat photographs ever taken, and the first to show battlefield death in action. During one charge, Capa held his camera above his head and clicked the shutter. The result is an image that is full of drama and movement as the shot soldier tumbles backward.
Grief, Dmitri Baltermants, 1942
Just as World War II broke out, Dmitri got a call from his bosses at the Soviet government paper Izvestia: “Our troops are crossing the border tomorrow. Get ready to shoot the annexation of western Ukraine!” Covering what then became known as the Great Patriotic War, he captured grim images of body-littered roads along with those of troops enjoying quiet moments. In January 1942 he was in the newly liberated city of Kerch, Crimea, where two months earlier Nazi death squads had rounded up the town’s 7,000 Jews. “They drove out whole families—women, the elderly, children,” Baltermants recalled years later. “They drove all of them to an anti tank ditch and shot them.”
Birmingham, Alabama, Charles Moore, 1963
In the summer of 1963, Birmingham was boiling over as black residents and their allies in the civil rights movement repeatedly clashed with a white power structure intent on maintaining segregation—and willing to do whatever that took. A photographer for the Montgomery Advertiser and life, Charles Moore was a native Alabaman and son of a Baptist preacher, appalled by the violence inflicted on African Americans in the name of law and order. Moore’s image of a police dog tearing into a black protester’s pants captured the routine, even casual, brutality of segregation.
Camelot, Hy Peskin, 1953
Hy Peskin photographed the handsome politician on the make and his radiant fiancée over a summer weekend in 1953. Peskin put together a somewhat contrived “behind the scenes” series titled “Senator Kennedy Goes A-Courting.” While Jackie bristled at the intrusion—John’s mother Rose even told her how to pose—she went along with the staging, and readers got to observe Jackie messing the hair of “the handsomest young member of the U.S. Senate,” playing football and softball with her future in-laws, and sailing aboard John’s boat, Victura.
The Babe Bows Out, Nat Fein, 1948
He was the greatest ballplayer of them all, the towering Sultan of Swat. But by 1948, Babe Ruth had been out of the game for more than a decade and was struggling with terminal cancer. So when the beloved Bambino stood before a massive crowd on June 13 to help celebrate the silver anniversary of Yankee Stadium and to retire his No. 3, it was clear this was a final public goodbye. Nat Fein of the New York Herald Tribune was one of dozens of photographers staked out along the first-base line. Fein “got a feeling” and walked behind Ruth, where he saw the proud ballplayer leaning on a bat, his thin legs hinting at the toll the disease had wreaked on his body.
Country Doctor, W. Eugene Smith, 1948
The Wichita, Kans.–born photographer spent weeks immersing himself in his subjects’ lives, from a South Carolina nurse to a midwife of the residents of a Spanish village. His aim was to see the world from the perspective of his subjects—and to compel viewers to do the same. “I do not seek to possess my subject but rather to give myself to it,” he said of his approach. Nowhere was this clearer than in his landmark photo essay “Country Doctor.”
Boat Of No Smiles, Eddie Adams, 1977
The sun hadn’t yet risen on Thanksgiving Day in 1977 when Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams watched a fishing boat packed with South Vietnamese refugees drift toward Thailand. He was on patrol with Thai maritime authorities as the unstable vessel carrying about 50 people came to shore after days at sea. Thousands of refugees had streamed from postwar Vietnam since the American withdrawal more than two years earlier, fleeing communism by fanning out across Southeast Asia in search of safe harbor. Adams boarded the packed fishing boat and began shooting. He didn’t have long. Eventually Thai authorities demanded that he disembark.
Firing Squad In Iran, Jahangir Razmi, 1979
On August 27, 1979, 11 men who had been convicted of being “counterrevolutionary” by the regime of Iranian ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were lined up on a dirt field at Sanandaj Airport and gunned down side by side. No international journalists witnessed the killings. The Iranian photographer Jahangir Razmi had been tipped off to the trial, and he used two rolls of film to shoot the executions.
Coffin Ban, Tami Silicio, 2004
By April 2004, some 700 U.S. troops had been killed on the battlefield in Iraq. The U.S. government had banned news organizations from photographing such scenes in 1991, arguing that they violated families’ privacy and the dignity of the dead. As a government contractor working for a cargo company in Kuwait, Tami Silicio was moved by the increasing human freight she was loading and felt compelled to share what she was seeing.
Dovima With Elephants, Paris, August, Richard Avedon, 1955
When Richard Avedon photographed Dovima at a Paris circus in 1955 for Harper’s Bazaar, both were already prominent in their fields. She was one of the world’s most famous models. Dovima With Elephants is one of the most famous fashion photographs of all time. Dovima was one of the last great models of the sophisticated mold, when haute couture was a relatively cloistered and elite world.
Michael Jordan, Co Rentmeester, 1984
It may be the most famous silhouette ever photographed. Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester captured the basketball star soaring through the air for a dunk, legs split like a ballet dancer’s and left arm stretched to the stars. Seeking design inspiration for its first Air Jordan sneakers, Nike paid Rentmeester $150 for temporary use of his slides from the life shoot.
The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death, Roger Fenton, 1855
While little is remembered of the Crimean War—that almost three-year conflict that pitted England, France, Turkey and Sardinia-Piedmont against Russia—coverage of it radically changed the way we view war. British photographer, Roger Fenton, landed in 1855 on that far-off peninsula on the Black Sea. This is especially clear in The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which shows a cannonball-strewn gully not far from the spot immortalized in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
The Steerage, Alfred Stieglitz, 1907
Stieglitz became mesmerized by the growing cacophony of society, of rising skyscrapers and soaring airplanes, and strove to create what he termed “straight photography,” offering truthful takes on the real world. In 1907 he was sailing to Europe, 4×5 Speed Graflex in tow, when he set off from the first-class deck and came upon the huddled masses in the ship’s steerage. “A round straw hat; the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right; the white drawbridge, its railings made of chain,” Stieglitz later wrote. “I stood spellbound for a while. I saw shapes related to one another—a picture of shapes, and underlying it, a new vision that held me.”
Trolley To New Orleans, Robert Frank, 1955
When Robert Frank’s book The Americans was released, Practical Photography magazine dismissed the Swiss-born photographer’s work as a collection of “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.” They captured a country on the cusp of change: rigidly segregated but with the civil rights movement stirring, rooted in family and rural tradition yet moving headlong into the anonymity of urban life. Nowhere is this tension higher than in Trolley—New Orleans, a fleeting moment that conveys the brutal social order of postwar America.
Behind The Gare Saint-Lazare, Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1932
In 1932, Henri pointed his Leica camera through a fence behind Paris’ Saint-Lazare train station. The resulting image is a masterpiece of form and light. As a man leaps across the water, evoking the dancers in a poster on the wall behind him, the ripples in the puddle around the ladder mimic the curved metal pieces nearby. Timing is everything, and no other photographer’s was better. The image would become the quintessential example of Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment”.
Couple In Raccoon Coats, James Vanderzee, 1932
To many white Americans in the 1930s, black people were little more than domestics or sharecroppers. They were ignored, invisible, forgotten. James VanDerZee gazed through his camera lens and not only photographed Harlem weddings, funerals, clubs and families but also chronicled the likes of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the poet Countee Cullen—the leaders, artists, writers, movers and strivers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Androgyny (6 Men + 6 Women), Nancy Burson, 1982
Photography is a perfect medium for recording the past. But until Nancy Burson’s Androgyny, it was useless for predicting the future. Burson worked with MIT scientists to develop technology that let her craft this composite image of the faces of six men and six women. Photographs could suddenly be used to project how someone would look, not just how they once did.
Untitled (Cowboy), Richard Prince, 1989
The idea for the project that would challenge everything sacred about ownership in photography came to Richard Prince when he was working in the tear-sheet department at Time Inc. While he deconstructed the pages of magazines for the archives, Prince’s attention was drawn to the ads that appeared alongside articles. One ad in particular caught his eye: the macho image of the Marlboro Man riding a horse under blue skies. And so, in a process he came to call rephotography, Prince took pictures of the ads and cropped out the type, leaving only the iconic cowboy and his surroundings.
Bricklayer, August Sander, 1928
By presenting doctors, farmers, chefs and beggars all with the same stark directness, the German-born Sander made everyone the everyman. “We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled, for life unavoidably leaves its trace there.” Sander’s most celebrated portrait of a bricklayer in Cologne, Germany, embodies that insight.
The Hague, Erich Salomon, 1930
Portly statesmen have long gathered to weigh the fate of nations, cigars and brandy at the ready. But they were always sequestered far from prying eyes. The German photojournalist Erich Salomon changed all that, slipping into those smoke-filled back rooms with a small Leica camera built to shoot in low light. Nowhere was his skill on greater display than during a 1930 meeting in the Hague over German World War I reparations.
Fort Peck Dam, Margaret Bourke-White, 1936
Fortune magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White, shot LIFE’s premier story on the construction of Montana’s Fort Peck Dam. Bourke-White used pictures to give a human feel to an article on the world’s largest earth-filled dam. She did this by focusing not only on the technical challenges of the massive New Deal project in the Missouri River Basin but also on the Wild West vibe in “the whole ramshackle town,” a place “stuffed to the seams with construction men, engineers, welders, quack doctors, barmaids, fancy ladies.”
Untitled Film Still 21, Cindy Sherman, 1978
Cindy Sherman the person has always been obscured by Cindy Sherman the subject. Through inventive, deliberately confusing self-portraits taken in familiar but artificial circumstances, Sherman introduced photography as postmodern performance art. From her Untitled Film Stills series, #21 (“City Girl”) calls to mind a frame from a B movie or an opening scene from a long-since-canceled television show. Rather than capture real life in the click of a shutter, Sherman uses photography as an artistic tool to deceive and captivate.
Brian Ridley And Lyle Heeter, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1979
Mainstream American culture had little room for homosexuality in 1979, when Robert Mapplethorpe photographed Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter in their full sadomasochistic regalia. In many states, expressing their love could be criminal. Mapplethorpe spent 10 years during this era documenting the underground gay S&M scene—a world even more deeply shielded from public view. His intimate, highly stylized portraits threw it into open relief, perhaps none more so than Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter. Both men are clad in leather, with the submissive one bound by chains and the dominant partner holding his reins in one hand and a riding crop in the other.
Demi Moore, Annie Leibovitz, 1991
The Hollywood star Demi Moore was seven months pregnant with her second child when she graced the cover of Vanity Fair. Such a display was not unusual for Moore, who had the birth of her first child recorded with three video cameras. But it was unprecedented for a mainstream media outlet. Portraitist Annie Leibovitz made an image that celebrated pregnancy as much as it titillated, showing how maternity could be not only empowering but also sexy.
Cathedral Rock, Yosemite, Carleton Watkins, 1861
Decades before Ansel Adams ever saw Yosemite’s jagged peaks, Carleton Watkins packed his mammoth plate camera, tripods and a makeshift tent darkroom on mules and ventured into the remote California valley. Watkins had 130 negatives that offered the first printed images of Yosemite’s towering masses, glacial geology and jaw-dropping expanse.
Allende’s Last Stand, Luis Orlando Lagos, 1973
Salvador Allende was the first democratically elected Marxist head of state, and he assumed the presidency of Chile in 1970. He nationalized U.S.-owned companies, turned estates into cooperatives, froze prices, increased wages and churned out money to bankroll the changes. In late August 1973, Allende appointed Augusto Pinochet as commander of the army. Eighteen days later, the conservative general orchestrated a coup. Allende refused to leave. Armed with an AK-47 and protected only by loyal guards at his side, he broadcast his final address on the radio, the sound of gunfire audible in the background.
Molotov Man, Susan Meiselas, 1979
Susan Meiselas traveled to Nicaragua in the late 1970’s as a young photographer with an anthropologist’s eye, keen to make sense of the struggle between the long-standing Somoza dictatorship and the socialist Sandinistas fighting to overthrow it.
North Korea, David Guttenfelder, 2013
David Guttenfelder was chief photographer in Asia for the Associated Press when it became the first international news organization to open a bureau in North Korea. Guttenfelder dutifully chronicled the official events and stage-managed pageants in Pyongyang, but his eye kept wandering to the scenes of daily life just beyond the guided tours. On January 18, 2013, he used his iPhone to post one of the first images to Instagram from inside the notoriously secretive country. “The window [into] North Korea has opened another crack,” he wrote on his widely followed account. “Meanwhile, for Koreans here who will not have access to the same service, the window remains shut.”
The Critic, Weegee, 1943
An Austrian immigrant who grew up on the gritty streets of New York City’s Lower East Side, Fellig became known as Weegee—a phonetic take on Ouija—for his preternatural ability to get the right photo. In 1943, Weegee turned the blinding flash of his Speed Graphic Camera on the social and economic inequalities that lingered after the Great Depression. He found a willing subject and took her to the Metropolitan Opera House for its Diamond Jubilee celebration.
Chairman Mao Swims In The Yangtze, 1966
After decades leading the Chinese Communist Party and then his nation, Mao Zedong began to worry about how he would be remembered. The 72-year-old Chairman feared too that his legacy would be undermined by the stirrings of a counterrevolution. In July 1966, with an eye toward securing his grip on power, Mao took a dip in the Yangtze River to show the world that he was still in robust health. The image of that swim is one of the few widely circulated photos of the leader.
Immersions (Piss Christ), Andres Serrano, 1987
In 1989, after Piss Christ was exhibited in Virginia, it attracted the attention of an outspoken pastor and, soon after, of Congress. Angry that Serrano had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Senators Al D’Amato and Jesse Helms helped pass a law requiring the NEA to consider “general standards of decency” in awarding grants.
Oscars Selfie, Bradley Cooper, 2014
In the middle of the 2014 Oscars, host Ellen DeGeneres waded into the crowd and corralled some of the world’s biggest stars to squeeze in for a selfie. Bradley Cooper held the phone, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Spacey, among others, pressed their faces together for the photo. DeGeneres immediately posted it on Twitter, where it was retweeted over 3 million times, more than any other photo in history.