Ten photographs that changed the worldPosted: September 9, 2009
Published: Sep. 08, 2009 – The Telegraph
To celebrate 170 years of the camera in the public domain, a look back over photographs that have had a profound impact on the way we live today.
170 years ago, in the summer of 1839, Louis Daguerre convinced the government of France to purchase his invention on behalf of the people of France. On 13 September 1839, the daguerreotype was first exhibited to a sceptical crowd in Piccadilly, London.
1. 1826 View from the Window at Le Gras by Joseph Niépce
It may not be the most striking subject: a wall, a rooftop and a chimney but the motivation behind it was inspired. It marks the first time man had ever written with sunlight. The technique, named heliography, used a photo-sensitive plate a sheet of pewter coated in a mixture of bitumen, dissolved in lavender oil. Using this process, Louis Daguerre worked on his invention, the daguerreotype, which was effectively the first camera. Without the impact of this picture, none of the following would exist.
2. 1855 Valley of the Shadow of Death by Roger Fenton
Fenton is widely regarded as the first war photographer. Unable to take pictures of battle, due to the necessary exposure time needed to create a photograph in the 1850s, Fenton arranged cannon balls across a barren landscape. This metaphorical and eerily empty image demonstrated that the photograph could be as thoughtful and affecting as a poem, even on the battlefield.
3. 1936 Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death by Robert Capa
This picture caused a stir when it was published in French magazine Vu, and, it has been argued, even helped strengthen the Republican cause. Some regarded it as a symbol of anti-Fascism, others as a more universal anti-war statement. Either way, the political implications of photography were fast being realised.
4. 1945 Nagasaki, taken by the U.S. Air Force
Proof of man’s ability to wreak destruction on a vast scale; the image of the mushroom cloud, captured here as 80,000 people were killed in one blow, is imprinted on the collective imagination.
5. 1950 Segregated Water Fountains in North Carolina by Elliott Erwitt
This picture, which points out the injustice of social segregation, became a well-recognised symbol for the need for change. Looking at it now speaks volumes about how much has changed since then.
6. 1961 Hans Conrad Schumann jumping into West Berlin by Peter Leibing
Capturing the moment of a soldier risking his life to escape from the communist Eastern Block by leaping over the barbed wire, this picture summed up the desperation of the Cold War.
7. 1972 Kim Phuc in a napalm attack in South Vietnam by Nick Ut
Nick Ut’s photograph of five children running in terror from an accidental napalm attack was widely published around the world, and crystallised in people’s mind’s the grim injustices of the Vietnam war. The war was heavily reported on and historians believe that images, particularly this one, had a huge impact at home, resulting in violent anti-war protests, a world-wide campaign for peace, and even contributing to the end of the war.
8. 1989 Tiananmen Square protest by Jeff Widener
The government sent tanks to brutally kill hundreds of workers, students and children in a crackdown on the protest at Tiananmen Square. A small, unknown, unexceptional figure stood bravely in protest in front of the tanks. As TIME magazine reported it, he “revived the world’s image of courage”. It is when history disguises itself as allegory that the camera writes it best.
9. 1994 Sudanese child with a vulture by Kevin Carter
This Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of a vulture waiting to feed on a dying toddler in Sudan summed up the cruelty of the famine in Sudan. It also, famously, highlighted the plight of the photographer; within three months of gaining recognition for this photograph, Kevin Carter committed suicide.
10. Pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib prison
A series of “trophy” images famously revealed by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command in 2004, exposed abuse and humiliation of Iraqi inmates by a group of US soldiers.