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What do history's most iconic photographs say about us?

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posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 09:25 AM
Timothy H. O’Sullivan – Battle of Gettysburg

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, and has earned its place in history as an iconic photograph.

Lawrence Beitler – Lynching

Lawrence Beitler took this iconic photograph on August 7, 1930, showing the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. 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 lynchingwhich 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 fulfillment. The photo was so popular it has been the inspiration for many poems and songs down the years.

Joe Rosenthal – Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is an historic photograph taken on February 23, 1945, by Joe Rosenthal. It depicts five United States Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the flag of the United States atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. It became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and came to be regarded in the United States as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.

Alberto Korda – Che Guevara

Alberto Korda’s well known photograph of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, titled ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ or ‘Heroic Guerrilla’ has become a symbol of the 20th centry. It shows Che, as he was known, at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion. The picture depicts the then-31 year-old’s stoic and character and now appear on T-shirts, tattoos, murials and walls all around the world. 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. The rights of the picture are now disputed. Still, it remains one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century

Eddie Adams – Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Nguyễn Văn Lém

Most of the iconic images of the 20th and 21st century have owned their photographers Pulitzer prizes for their work, and this image is no exception. Eddie Adams was famous for his portraits of celebrties and for being a prolific photojournalist, having been in 13 wars. However, possibly his most famous image is of the execution of Nguy?n Van LÈm by Nguy?n Ng?c 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 honor while he was alive.

Moon Landing

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. For many, though, it provides a sense of accomplishment and achievement by the human race to send a man to the moon, which for years was considered an impossibility. The American flag also 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.

Richard Drew – The Falling Man

“The Falling Man” is a photograph taken by Richard Drew at 9:41:15 a.m., on September 11, 2001 of a man falling from the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks in New York City. The man in the photohraph remains unknown. Many people find the image disturbing because it is a horrific image of what people had to resort to during the attacks. The picture is deceptive, however, as it suggest that man was falling straight down, however, this is just one of many photographs of his fall. It is evident from these other pictures that he tumbling out of control.

Huynh Cong Ut – Napalm Strike

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, Viet Nam. However there has been much controversy over the events depicted in the photo. It is suggested that American bombers had nothing to do with this event and that there have been many derogatory and misleading comments about the American troops in regard to this photo. Nevertheless, it is said that this photo ended the war in Vietnam and served as an icon for the peace movement that was prevelent in the 1970s.

Stanley J. Forman – Fire on Marlborough Street

On July 22, 1975, Stanley J. Forman took this infamous photograph while working for the Boston Herald. He climbed on the back of a fire truck as it raced towards a reported fire at Marlborough Street. Just as the crew had arrived at the scene, a young woman and small girl fell from an apartment above. The woman died instantly, but the young girl lived. This photo earned Forman a Pulitzer prize, and in addition, convinced Boston and several other cities to introduce more comprehensive fire safety laws.


[edit on 01/06/09 by LiveForever8]

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 09:29 AM
Tank Man – Jeff Widener

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.


This example of emotive imagery is of child in Uganda holding hands with a missionary. The stark contrast between the two people serves as a reminder of the gulf 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 compeition with a picture of a starving boy.

Vulture Stalking a Child

This shocking photo depicts a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a patient vulture. It is a horrific picture that gave people a true look at the dire condition in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kevin Carter, who took the photo, won a Pulitzer Prize for this work. Kevin then 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.


[edit on 01/06/09 by LiveForever8]

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 09:41 AM
Good post.

Some very thought provoking pictures.

Reality of past events is really hard to comprehend and I sometimes wonder with the level of death and cruelty that was witnessed , do I realy want to fully understand.

Thanks for posting.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 09:56 AM
reply to post by LiveForever8

I think it says we are enslaved as a species.

If you think about it, why would humanity enslave itself, logically that does not make sense. If you can see what I am saying then your on the first step towards the truth in my opinion.

Everyone has a unique perspective of the world, some might say I am wrong but thats for each individual to think about their own reasons.

[edit on 2-8-2009 by XXXN3O]

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 09:56 AM
I was thinking this exact same thing as I was watching the news coverage of the French photo houses that are going out of business.

Thanks for this great thread.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 09:58 AM
S&F Well done good example of how photography comes across with a message, The one in vietnam of the general executing the VC I'm lead to believe was carried out by him because he had just caught this VC in his house and he had murdered his daughters and servants..

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 12:13 PM

Originally posted by foxhoundone
S&F Well done good example of how photography comes across with a message, The one in vietnam of the general executing the VC I'm lead to believe was carried out by him because he had just caught this VC in his house and he had murdered his daughters and servants..

Eddie Adams (photographer) later wrote in Time:
“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths ... What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?"


posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 12:33 PM
it says evil has over run this world.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 01:02 PM
These photos show,that instead of being remembered for many great achievements,mankind will ultimately be remembered for the sheer inhumanity to our fellow man!
No matter what your political,religious or social belief,we should all hang our heads when these photos are held up as the most iconic images of mankind's history!

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 01:22 PM
Great thread !

These pictures even if they are strong visually, help to understand the human nature and the atrocities that we can do.

We wil come to a point that we will finally understand that the world we live in is so small that it should be better for us humans to work alltogether peacefully as one race and for our benefit.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 01:28 PM
It shows that we as humans still have a big problem. It is amazing we even made it this far if you think about it.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 01:55 PM
I think the photos show that we have come a long way. Even with all of the Death and War and Violence we still persevere and fight to live another day. We keep procreating and existing. We keep learning.

Our trial and error involves death many times but we are ALL going to die sooner or later. If a persons photographed death can help to better the other 5 Billion of us that are just standing in line waiting for our turn to die then I think there is no tragedy there.

If that Death can be filmed as a staunch reminder to not forget history then it purposefully serves.

I like these photos. I do not like Death or Violence or War but I like the photographs.

I think the photos say that there is much hope for us.

"You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other." -Contact

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 02:09 PM
reply to post by Cygnific

Agreed, Humans in general are just hostile, compared to all the events in history, for the good ones there is only a handful compared to bad events.

Shame on us, honestly.

I just don't understand what it will take for everybody to just say, RIGHT! that's it i'm fed up with this [snip]?!?!

Edit because the emotion from the pictures took my mind away,

So edit to say, Good post thanks a bunch OP!

[edit on 2-8-2009 by werall1]

[edit on 2-8-2009 by werall1]

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 02:14 PM
Great thread

In Tom Hanks movie Road to Perdition, there was a photgrapher that was also a hit man. There are many true to life psychos out there that do this.

I think there will come a day when we're profile tested to see our amount of response, much like the movie Bladerunner. Kinda like precrime I guess.

It is sad that the last photographer was made to feel guilty, when what he did was immortalize a heart wrenching situation and give it more thought than just a flash on the news. I grew up feeling that this is what these people deal with over there as if normal. I guess the word is complacent.

I don't know why if it's morbid curiosity or trying to psychically connect with a photgraph and era.

A house I was renting I had been doing some bathroom work on and found a photo of the orignal families funeral for their child. It was a group photo in black and white and I thought it was bizarre. I took it to the owner and they didn't want it. They told me to put it back in the wall.

This reminds me of the movie: The Others

When my father died a few years ago, my father hadn't wanted a wake or a funeral. I covinced my brother to take a photo of him dressed in bed as if sleeping. He e-mailed it to relatives and friends. I don't recall anyone complaining.

I recently puchased an old steel, not cast iron, frying pan at goodwill with what appears to be a patent date on it of Nov. 14 76. I assumed it was 1876 and it has a lot of charring on the bottom as if from camp fires.

It makes me think of that era around the civil war, which really wasn't that long seems. Considering the life expectancy for some, it was two or more generations.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 02:58 PM
It says we are not aware of reality beyond our limited range of view. If our close surrounding is happy then for us whole world is happy, if our close surrounding is evil then for us whole world is evil. Many of us not realize that the world does not revolve around our existence.

These photos extend our range of view for a brief moment, causing world-changing emotions. If only we would not need photographs to express emotions.

Stories behind those photographs show me how the media uses cheap magic tricks to manipulate our feeble awareness. I'm sorry to feel negative about this, but I'm sure people who took those photos didn't feel quite well either.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 03:00 PM
reply to post by LiveForever8

If one were to only look at those pictures, I would say they represent unconsciousness.

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 03:37 PM
Those pictures depict that good and evil both exist in the world today, and always will.

One who thinks of either extreme as being absolute have no sense of what humans are - a species, an animal.

About the photographer who committed suicide (vulture picture).

There are many who can criticize, and those that do never help.
There are those who want to help, and they should not criticize.

If you can help and not criticize (more like insult) others, then you are in the right light.

But if you help just to look down on others, then you are not doing it for the right reason (even if it is a nice act).

And if you look down on others for not helping(while doing the same), you are only talking the same about yourself.

Hypocrisy fills the air...

[edit on 2-8-2009 by FritosBBQTwist]

[edit on 2-8-2009 by FritosBBQTwist]

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 03:58 PM
I think it demonstrates what a singular lack of control the vast majority of humanity has over its own destiny and shared guilt we all have in at least perpetuating this as well.

The man who stands in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square is a great image of defiance but shows the ultimate futility of the gesture.

Sadly as long as we accept the status quo this will keep happening. We have not learnt the lessons of previous revolutions and changes to heirarchical government, as whilst we have changed the people and modes of heirarchical government we have n`t actually got rid of it. The man or woman on the street is a far more caring and compassionate being than any government.

Only when humanity is able to do this and move as one, with common purpose will we be able to move past this. Until then children, women and men will continue to die for.

Excellent post OP thanks very much very thought provoking and powerful stuff

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 04:39 PM
Good post, I'm glad you didn't post any pictures of the Holocaust.

Second thought, doesn't that make you an anti-Semite?

posted on Aug, 2 2009 @ 04:52 PM
The fact that every 2.5 seconds, a child dies, of starvation, is appaling.

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