TIME magazine decided to create a list of the 100 most influential pictures ever taken. They teamed up with curators, historians, photo editors, and famous photographers around the world for this task. “No formula makes for iconic photos,” the editors said. “Some images are on our list because they were the first of their kind, others because they shaped the way we think. And some cut because they directly changed the way we live. What all of the 100 famous photographs share is that they are turning points in our human experience.”
The result they ended up with is not only a collection of superb rare and interesting historical photos but incredible human experiences as well. “The best photography is a form of bearing witness, a way of bringing a single vision to the larger world.” However, these famous photos are not the only TIME 100 – previously the magazine has released Top 100 novels, movies, influential people, and other noteworthy lists. Scroll down below to check the photo gallery of the most famous pictures of our age.
1. The Terror Of War, 1972
The faces of collateral damage and friendly fire are generally not seen. This was not the case with 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc. On June 8, 1972, Associated Press photographer Nick Ut was outside Trang Bang, about 25 miles northwest of Saigon, when the South Vietnamese air force mistakenly dropped a load of napalm on the village. As the Vietnamese photographer took pictures of the carnage, he saw a group of children and soldiers along with a screaming naked girl running up the highway toward him. Ut wondered, Why doesn’t she have clothes? He then realized that she had been hit by napalm.
“I took a lot of water and poured it on her body. She was screaming, ‘Too hot! Too hot!’” Ut took Kim Phuc to a hospital, where he learned that she might not survive the third-degree burns covering 30 percent of her body. So with the help of colleagues he got her transferred to an American facility for treatment that saved her life. Ut’s photo of the raw impact of conflict underscored that the war was doing more harm than good. It also sparked newsroom debates about running a photo with nudity, pushing many publications, including the New York Times, to override their policies. The photo quickly became a cultural shorthand for the atrocities of the Vietnam War and joined Malcolm Browne’s Burning Monk and Eddie Adams’ Saigon Execution as defining images of that brutal conflict. When President Richard Nixon wondered if the photo was fake, Ut commented, “The horror of the Vietnam War recorded by me did not have to be fixed.” In 1973 the Pulitzer committee agreed and awarded him its prize. That same year, America’s involvement in the war ended
(Photo credit: Nick Ut).
2. The Burning Monk, 1963
Full story on this article. In June 1963, most Americans couldn’t find Vietnam on a map. But there was no forgetting that war-torn Southeast Asian nation after Associated Press photographer Malcolm Browne captured the image of Thich Quang Duc immolating himself on a Saigon street. Browne had been given a heads-up that something was going to happen to protest the treatment of Buddhists by the regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Once there he watched as two monks doused the seated elderly man with gasoline. “I realized at that moment exactly what was happening, and began to take pictures a few seconds apart,” he wrote soon after.
His Pulitzer Prize–winning photo of the seemingly serene monk sitting lotus style as he is enveloped in flames became the first iconic image to emerge from a quagmire that would soon pull in America. Quang Duc’s act of martyrdom became a sign of the volatility of his nation, and President Kennedy later commented, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Browne’s photo forced people to question the U.S.’s association with Diem’s government, and soon resulted in the Administration’s decision not to interfere with a coup that November.
(Photo credit: Malcolm Browne).
3. Starving Child And Vulture, 1993
Full story on this article. Kevin Carter knew the stench of death. As a member of the Bang-Bang Club, a quartet of brave photographers who chronicled apartheid-era South Africa, he had seen more than his share of heartbreak. In 1993 he flew to Sudan to photograph the famine racking that land. Exhausted after a day of taking pictures in the village of Ayod, he headed out into the open bush. There he heard whimpering and came across an emaciated toddler who had collapsed on the way to a feeding center. As he took the child’s picture, a plump vulture landed nearby.
Carter had reportedly been advised not to touch the victims because of disease, so instead of helping, he spent 20 minutes waiting in the hope that the stalking bird would open its wings. It did not. Carter scared the creature away and watched as the child continued toward the center. He then lit a cigarette, talked to God and wept. The New York Times ran the photo, and readers were eager to find out what happened to the child—and to criticize Carter for not coming to his subject’s aid. His image quickly became a wrenching case study in the debate over when photographers should intervene. Subsequent research seemed to reveal that the child did survive yet died 14 years later from malarial fever. Carter won a Pulitzer for his image, but the darkness of that bright day never lifted from him. In July 1994 he took his own life, writing, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings, corpses, anger and pain.”
(Photo credit: Kevin Carter).
4. Lunch Atop A Skyscraper, 1932
It’s the most perilous yet playful lunch break ever captured: 11 men casually eating, chatting and sneaking a smoke as if they weren’t 840 feet above Manhattan with nothing but a thin beam keeping them aloft. That comfort is real; the men are among the construction workers who helped build Rockefeller Center. But the picture, taken on the 69th floor of the flagship RCA Building (now the GE Building), was staged as part of a promotional campaign for the massive skyscraper complex. While the photographer and the identities of most of the subjects remain a mystery—the photographers Charles C. Ebbets, Thomas Kelley and William Leftwich were all present that day, and it’s not known which one took it—there isn’t an ironworker in New York City who doesn’t see the picture as a badge of their bold tribe. In that way they are not alone.
By thumbing its nose at both danger and the Depression, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper came to symbolize American resilience and ambition at a time when both were desperately needed. It has since become an iconic emblem of the city in which it was taken, affirming the romantic belief that New York is a place unafraid to tackle projects that would cow less brazen cities. And like all symbols in a city built on hustle, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper has spawned its own economy. It is the Corbis photo agency’s most reproduced image. And good luck walking through Times Square without someone hawking it on a mug, magnet or T-shirt.
5. Tank Man, 1989
On the morning of June 5, 1989, photographer Jeff Widener was perched on a sixth-floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel. It was a day after the Tiananmen Square massacre, when Chinese troops attacked pro-democracy demonstrators camped on the plaza, and the Associated Press sent Widener to document the aftermath. As he photographed bloody victims, passersby on bicycles and the occasional scorched bus, a column of tanks began rolling out of the plaza.
Widener lined up his lens just as a man carrying shopping bags stepped in front of the war machines, waving his arms and refusing to move. The tanks tried to go around the man, but he stepped back into their path, climbing atop one briefly. Widener assumed the man would be killed, but the tanks held their fire. Eventually the man was whisked away, but not before Widener immortalized his singular act of resistance. Others also captured the scene, but Widener’s image was transmitted over the AP wire and appeared on front pages all over the world. Decades after Tank Man became a global hero, he remains unidentified. The anonymity makes the photograph all the more universal, a symbol of resistance to unjust regimes everywhere.
(Photo credit: Jeff Widener).
6. Falling Man, 2001
The most widely seen images from 9/11 are of planes and towers, not people. Falling Man is different. The photo, taken by Richard Drew in the moments after the September 11, 2001, attacks, is one man’s distinct escape from the collapsing buildings, a symbol of individuality against the backdrop of faceless skyscrapers. On a day of mass tragedy, Falling Man is one of the only widely seen pictures that shows someone dying. The photo was published in newspapers around the U.S. in the days after the attacks, but backlash from readers forced it into temporary obscurity. It can be a difficult image to process, the man perfectly bisecting the iconic towers as he darts toward the earth like an arrow. Falling Man’s identity is still unknown, but he is believed to have been an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant, which sat atop the north tower. The true power of Falling Man, however, is less about who its subject was and more about what he became: a makeshift Unknown Soldier in an often unknown and uncertain war, suspended forever in history.
(Photo credit: Richard Drew).
7. Alan Kurdi, 2015The war in Syria had been going on for more than four years when Alan Kurdi’s parents lifted the 3-year-old boy and his 5-year-old brother into an inflatable boat and set off from the Turkish coast for the Greek island of Kos, just three miles away. Within minutes of pushing off, a wave capsized the vessel, and the mother and both sons drowned. On the shore near the coastal town of Bodrum a few hours later, Nilufer Demir of the Dogan News Agency, came upon Alan, his face turned to one side and bottom elevated as if he were just asleep. “There was nothing left to do for him. There was nothing left to bring him back to life,” she said. So Demir raised her camera. “I thought, This is the only way I can express the scream of his silent body.” The resulting image became the defining photograph of an ongoing war that, by the time Demir pressed her shutter, had killed some 220,000 people. It was taken not in Syria, a country the world preferred to ignore, but on the doorstep of Europe, where its refugees were heading. Dressed for travel, the child lay between one world and another: waves had washed away any chalky brown dust that might locate him in a place foreign to Westerners’ experience. It was an experience the Kurdis sought for themselves, joining a migration fueled as much by aspiration as desperation.
The family had already escaped bloodshed by making it across the land border to Turkey; the sea journey was in search of a better life, one that would now become — at least for a few months — far more accessible for the hundreds of thousands traveling behind them. Demir’s image whipped around social media within hours, accumulating potency with every share. News organizations were compelled to publish it—or publicly defend their decision not to. And European governments were suddenly compelled to open closed frontiers. Within a week, trainloads of Syrians were arriving in Germany to cheers, as a war lamented but not felt suddenly brimmed with emotions unlocked by a picture of one small, still form.
(Photo credit: Nilüfer Demir).
8. Earthrise, 1968
It’s never easy to identify the moment a hinge turns in history. When it comes to humanity’s first true grasp of the beauty, fragility and loneliness of our world, however, we know the precise instant. It was on December 24, 1968, exactly 75 hours, 48 minutes and 41 seconds after the Apollo 8 spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral en route to becoming the first manned mission to orbit the moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve of what had been a bloody, war-torn year for America. At the beginning of the fourth of 10 orbits, their spacecraft was emerging from the far side of the moon when a view of the blue-white planet filled one of the hatch windows.
“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. The image—our first full-color view of our planet from off of it—helped to launch the environmental movement. And, just as important, it helped human beings recognize that in a cold and punishing cosmos, we’ve got it pretty good.
(Photo credit: William Anders, NASA).
9. Mushroom Cloud Over Nagasaki, 1945
Three days after an atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy obliterated Hiroshima, Japan, U.S. forces dropped an even more powerful weapon dubbed Fat Man on Nagasaki. The explosion shot up a 45,000-foot-high column of radioactive dust and debris. “We saw this big plume climbing up, up into the sky,” recalled Lieutenant Charles Levy, the bombardier, who was knocked over by the blow from the 20-kiloton weapon. “It was purple, red, white, all colors—something like boiling coffee. It looked alive.”
The officer then shot 16 photographs of the new weapon’s awful power as it yanked the life out of some 80,000 people in the city on the Urakami River. Six days later, the two bombs forced Emperor Hirohito to announce Japan’s unconditional surrender in World War II. Officials censored photos of the bomb’s devastation, but Levy’s image—the only one to show the full scale of the mushroom cloud from the air—was circulated widely. The effect shaped American opinion in favor of the nuclear bomb, leading the nation to celebrate the atomic age and proving, yet again, that history is written by the victors.
(Photo credit: Lieutenant Charles Levy).
10. V-J Day In Times Square, 1945
Full story on this article. At its best, photography captures fleeting snippets that crystallize the hope, anguish, wonder and joy of life. Alfred Eisenstaedt, one of the first four photographers hired by LIFE magazine, made it his mission “to find and catch the storytelling moment.” He didn’t have to go far for it when World War II ended on August 14, 1945. Taking in the mood on the streets of New York City, Eisenstaedt soon found himself in the joyous tumult of Times Square.
As he searched for subjects, a sailor in front of him grabbed hold of a nurse, tilted her back and kissed her. Eisenstaedt’s photograph of that passionate swoop distilled the relief and promise of that momentous day in a single moment of unbridled joy (although some argue today that it should be seen as a case of sexual assault). His beautiful image has become the most famous and frequently reproduced picture of the 20th century, and it forms the basis of our collective memory of that transformative moment in world history. “People tell me that when I’m in heaven,” Eisenstaedt said, “they will remember this picture.”
(Photo credit: Alfred Eisenstaedt).
11. Pillars Of Creation, 1995
The Hubble Space Telescope almost didn’t make it. Carried aloft in 1990 aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, it was over-budget, years behind schedule and, when it finally reached orbit, nearsighted, its 8-foot mirror distorted as a result of a manufacturing flaw. It would not be until 1993 that a repair mission would bring Hubble online. Finally, on April 1, 1995, the telescope delivered the goods, capturing an image of the universe so clear and deep that it has come to be known as Pillars of Creation.
What Hubble photographed is the Eagle Nebula, a star-forming patch of space 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Serpens Cauda. The great smokestacks are vast clouds of interstellar dust, shaped by the high-energy winds blowing out from nearby stars (the black portion in the top right is from the magnification of one of Hubble’s four cameras). But the science of the pillars has been the lesser part of their significance. Both the oddness and the enormousness of the formation—the pillars are 5 light-years, or 30 trillion miles, long—awed, thrilled and humbled in equal measure. One image achieved what a thousand astronomy symposia never could.
(Photo credit: NASA).
12. Fire Escape Collapse, 1975
Full story on this article. Stanley Forman was working for the Boston Herald American on July 22, 1975, when he got a call about a fire on Marlborough Street. He raced over in time to see a woman and child on a fifth-floor fire escape. A fireman had set out to help them, and Forman figured he was shooting another routine rescue. “Suddenly the fire escape gave way,” he recalled, and Diana Bryant, 19, and her goddaughter Tiare Jones, 2, were swimming through the air. “I was shooting pictures as they were falling—then I turned away. It dawned on me what was happening, and I didn’t want to see them hit the ground. I can still remember turning around and shaking.” Bryant died from the fall, her body cushioning the blow for her goddaughter, who survived.
While the event was no different from the routine tragedies that fill the local news, Forman’s picture of it was. Using a motor-drive camera, Forman was able to freeze the horrible tumbling moment down to the expression on young Tiare’s face. The photo earned Forman the Pulitzer Prize and led municipalities around the country to enact tougher fire-escape-safety codes. But its lasting legacy is as much ethical as temporal. Many readers objected to the publication of Forman’s picture, and it remains a case study in the debate over when disturbing images are worth sharing.
(Photo credit: Stanley Forman).
13. A Man On The Moon, 1969
Somewhere in the Sea of Tranquillity, the little depression in which Buzz Aldrin stood on the evening of July 20, 1969, is still there—one of billions of pits and craters and pockmarks on the moon’s ancient surface. But it may not be the astronaut’s most indelible mark. Aldrin never cared for being the second man on the moon—to come so far and miss the epochal first-man designation Neil Armstrong earned by a mere matter of inches and minutes. But Aldrin earned a different kind of immortality. Since it was Armstrong who was carrying the crew’s 70-millimeter Hasselblad, he took all of the pictures—meaning the only moon man earthlings would see clearly would be the one who took the second steps.
That this image endured the way it has was not likely. It has none of the action of the shots of Aldrin climbing down the ladder of the lunar module, none of the patriotic resonance of his saluting the American flag. He’s just standing in place, a small, fragile man on a distant world—a world that would be happy to kill him if he removed so much as a single article of his exceedingly complex clothing. His arm is bent awkwardly—perhaps, he has speculated, because he was glancing at the checklist on his wrist. And Armstrong, looking even smaller and more spectral, is reflected in his visor. It’s a picture that in some ways did everything wrong if it was striving for heroism. As a result, it did everything right.
(Photo credit: Neil Armstrong, Nasa).
14. Albino Boy, Biafra, 1969
Few remember Biafra, the tiny western African nation that split off from southern Nigeria in 1967 and was retaken less than three years later. Much of the world learned of the enormity of that brief struggle through images of the mass starvation and disease that took the lives of possibly millions. None proved as powerful as British war photographer Don McCullin’s picture of a 9-year-old albino child. “To be a starving Biafran orphan was to be in a most pitiable situation, but to be a starving albino Biafran was to be in a position beyond description,” McCullin wrote.
“Dying of starvation, he was still among his peers an object of ostracism, ridicule and insult.” This photo profoundly influenced public opinion, pressured governments to take action, and led to massive airlifts of food, medicine and weapons. McCullin hoped that such stark images would be able to “break the hearts and spirits of secure people.” While public attention eventually shifted, McCullin’s work left a lasting legacy: he and other witnesses of the conflict inspired the launch of Doctors Without Borders, which delivers emergency medical support to those suffering from war, epidemics and disasters.
(Photo credit: Don Mccullin).
15. Jewish Boy Surrenders In Warsaw, 1943
The terrified young boy with his hands raised at the center of this image was one of nearly half a million Jews packed into the Warsaw ghetto, a neighborhood transformed by the Nazis into a walled compound of grinding starvation and death. Beginning in July 1942, the German occupiers started shipping some 5,000 Warsaw inhabitants a day to concentration camps. As news of exterminations seeped back, the ghetto’s residents formed a resistance group. “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.” That hour arrived on April 19, 1943, when Nazi troops came to take the rest of the Jews away. The sparsely armed partisans fought back but were eventually subdued by German tanks and flamethrowers. When the revolt ended on May 16, the 56,000 survivors faced summary execution or deportation to concentration and slave-labor camps.
SS Major General Jürgen Stroop took such pride in his work clearing out the ghetto that he created the Stroop Report, a leather-bound victory album whose 75 pages include a laundry list of boastful spoils, reports of daily killings and dozens of heart-wrenching photos like that of the boy raising his hands. This collection proved his undoing, for besides giving a face to those who died, the pictures reveal the power of photography as a documentary tool. At the subsequent Nuremberg war-crimes trials, the volume became key evidence against Stroop and resulted in his hanging near the ghetto in 1951. The Holocaust produced scores of searing images. But none had the evidentiary impact of the boy’s surrender. The child, whose identity has never been confirmed, has come to represent the face of the 6 million defenseless Jews killed by the Nazis.
16. Bloody Saturday, 1937
Full story on this article. The same imperialistic desires festering in Europe in the 1930s had already swept into Asia. Yet many Americans remained wary of wading into a conflict in what seemed a far-off, alien land. But that opinion began to change as Japan’s army of the Rising Sun rolled toward Shanghai in the summer of 1937. Fighting started there in August, and the unrelenting shelling and bombing caused mass panic and death in the streets. But the rest of the world didn’t put a face to the victims until they saw the aftermath of an August 28 attack by Japanese bombers. When H.S. Wong, a photographer for Hearst Metrotone News nicknamed Newsreel, arrived at the destroyed South Station, he recalled carnage so fresh “that my shoes were soaked with blood.”
In the midst of the devastation, Wong saw a wailing Chinese baby whose mother lay dead on nearby tracks. He said he quickly shot his remaining film and then ran to carry the baby to safety, but not before the boy’s father raced over and ferried him away. Wong’s image of the wounded, helpless infant was sent to New York and featured in Hearst newsreels, newspapers and life magazine—the widest audience a picture could then have. Viewed by more than 136 million people, it struck a personal chord that transcended ethnicity and geography. To many, the infant’s pain represented the plight of China and the bloodlust of Japan, and the photo dubbed Bloody Saturday was transformed into one of the most powerful news pictures of all time. Its dissemination reveals the potent force of an image to sway official and public opinion. Wong’s picture led the U.S., Britain and France to formally protest the attack and helped shift Western sentiment in favor of wading into what would become the world’s second great war.
(Photo credit: H.s. Wong).
17. Migrant Mother, 1936
Full story on this article. The picture that did more than any other to humanize the cost of the Great Depression almost didn’t happen. Driving past the crude “Pea-Pickers Camp” sign in Nipomo, north of Los Angeles, Dorothea Lange kept going for 20 miles. But 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.
The farm’s crop had frozen, and there was no work for the homeless pickers, so the 32-year-old Thompson sold the tires from her car to buy food, which was supplemented with birds killed by the children. Lange, who believed that one could understand others through close study, tightly framed the children and the mother, whose eyes, worn from worry and resignation, look past the camera. Lange took six photos with her 4×5 Graflex camera, later writing, “I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment.” Afterward Lange informed the authorities of the plight of those at the encampment, and they sent 20,000 pounds of food. Of the 160,000 images taken by Lange and other photographers for the Resettlement Administration, Migrant Mother has become the most iconic picture of the Depression. Through an intimate portrait of the toll being exacted across the land, Lange gave a face to a suffering nation.
(Photo credit: Dorothea Lange).
18. The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937
Full story on this article. Zeppelins were majestic skyliners, luxurious behemoths that signified wealth and power. The arrival of these ships was news, which is why 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. Suddenly, as the assembled media watched, the grand ship’s flammable hydrogen caught fire, causing it to spectacularly burst into bright yellow flames and kill 36 people. Shere was one of nearly two dozen still and newsreel photographers who scrambled to document the fast-moving tragedy. But it is his image, with its stark immediacy and horrible grandeur, that has endured as the most famous—owing to its publication on front pages around the world and in LIFE and, more than three decades later, its use on the cover of the first Led Zeppelin album.
The crash helped bring the age of the airships to a close, and Shere’s powerful photograph of one of the world’s most formative early air disasters persists as a cautionary reminder of how human fallibility can lead to death and destruction. Almost as famous as Shere’s photo is the anguished voice of Chicago radio announcer Herbert Morrison, who cried as he watched people tumbling through the air, “It is bursting into flames… This is terrible. This is one of the worst catastrophes in the world … Oh, the humanity!”
(Photo credit: Sam Shere).
19. Guerillero Heroico, 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. It has become the cultural shorthand for rebellion and one of the most recognizable and reproduced images of all time, with its influence long since transcending its steely-eyed subject.
(Photo credit: Alberto Korda).
20. Dalí Atomicus, 1948
Capturing the essence of those he photographed was Philippe Halsman’s life’s work. So when Halsman set out to shoot his friend and longtime collaborator the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, he knew a simple seated portrait would not suffice. Inspired by Dalí’s painting Leda Atomica, Halsman created an elaborate scene to surround the artist that included the original work, a floating chair and an in-progress easel suspended by thin wires. Assistants, including Halsman’s wife and young daughter Irene, stood out of the frame and, on the photographer’s count, threw three cats and a bucket of water into the air while Dalí leaped up.
It took the assembled cast 26 takes to capture a composition that satisfied Halsman. And no wonder. The final result, published in LIFE, evokes Dalí’s own work. The artist even painted an image directly onto the print before publication. Before Halsman, portrait photography was often stilted and softly blurred, with a clear sense of detachment between the photographer and the subject. Halsman’s approach, to bring subjects such as Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock into sharp focus as they moved before the camera, redefined portrait photography and inspired generations of photographers to collaborate with their subjects.
(Photo credit: Philippe Halsman).
21. View From The Window At Le Gras, 1826
It took a unique combination of ingenuity and curiosity to produce the first known photograph, so it’s fitting that the man who made it was an inventor and not an artist. In the 1820s, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce had become fascinated with the printing method of lithography, in which images drawn on stone could be reproduced using oil-based ink. Searching for other ways to produce images, Niépce set up a device called a camera obscura, which captured and projected scenes illuminated by sunlight, and trained it on the view outside his studio window in eastern France. The scene was cast on a treated pewter plate that, after many hours, retained a crude copy of the buildings and rooftops outside. The result was the first known permanent photograph. It is no overstatement to say that Niépce’s achievement laid the groundwork for the development of photography. Later, he worked with artist Louis Daguerre, whose sharper daguerreotype images marked photography’s next major advancement.
(Photo credit: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce).
22. Leap Into Freedom, 1961
Full story on this article. Following World War II, the conquering Allied governments carved Berlin into four occupation zones. Yet each part was not equal, and from 1949 to 1961 some 2.5 million East Germans fled the Soviet section in search of freedom. To stop the flow, East German leader Walter Ulbricht had a barbed-wire-and-cinder-block barrier thrown up in early August 1961. A few days later, Associated Press photographer Peter Leibing was tipped off that a defection might happen. 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, who later said he did not want to “live enclosed,” suddenly ran for the barricade.
As he cleared the sharp wires he dropped his rifle and was whisked away. Sent out across the AP wire, Leibing’s photo ran on front pages across the world. It made Schumann, reportedly the first known East German soldier to flee, into a poster child for those yearning to be free, while lending urgency to East Germany’s push for a more permanent Berlin Wall. Schumann was sadly haunted by the weight of it all. While he quietly lived in the West, he could not grapple with his unintended stature as a symbol of freedom, and he committed suicide in 1998.
(Photo credit: Peter Leibing).
23. The Hand Of Mrs. Wilhelm Röntgen, 1895
There’s no way of knowing how many pictures were taken of Anna Bertha Röntgen, and most are surely lost to history. But one of them isn’t: it is of her hand—more precisely, the bones in her hand—an image captured by her husband Wilhelm when he took the first medical x-ray in 1895. 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.
The picture of Anna’s hand created a sensation, and the discovery of x-rays won Wilhelm the first Nobel Prize ever granted for physics in 1901. His breakthrough quickly went into use around the world, revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and illnesses that had always been hidden from sight. Anna, however, was never taken with the picture. “I have seen my death,” she said when she first glimpsed it. For many millions of other people, it has meant life.
(Photo credit: Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen).
24. Flag Raising On Iwo Jima, 1945
It is but a speck of an island 760 miles south of Tokyo, a volcanic pile that blocked the Allies’ march toward Japan. The Americans needed Iwo Jima 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. An American flag was quickly raised, but a commander called for a bigger one, in part to inspire his men and demoralize his opponents. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal lugged his bulky Speed Graphic camera to the top, and as five Marines and a Navy corpsman prepared to hoist the Stars and Stripes, Rosenthal stepped back to get a better frame—and almost missed the shot.
“The sky was overcast,” he later wrote of what has become one of the most recognizable images of war. “The wind just whipped the flag out over the heads of the group, and at their feet the disrupted terrain and the broken stalks of the shrubbery exemplified the turbulence of war.” Two days later Rosenthal’s photo was splashed on front pages across the U.S., where it was quickly embraced as a symbol of unity in the long-fought war. The picture, which earned Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize, so resonated that it was made into a postage stamp and cast as a 100-ton bronze memorial.
(Photo credit: Joe Rosenthal).
25. Emmett Till, 1955In August 1955, Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he stopped at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. There he encountered Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Whether Till really flirted with Bryant or whistled at her isn’t known. But what happened four days later is. Bryant’s husband Roy and his half brother, J.W. Milam, seized the 14-year-old from his great-uncle’s house. The pair then beat Till, shot him, and strung barbed wire and a 75-pound metal fan around his neck and dumped the lifeless body in the Tallahatchie River.
A white jury quickly acquitted the men, with one juror saying it had taken so long only because they had to break to drink some pop. When Till’s mother Mamie came to identify her son, she told the funeral director, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.” She brought him home to Chicago and insisted on an open casket. Tens of thousands filed past Till’s remains, but it was the publication of the searing funeral image in Jet, with a stoic Mamie gazing at her murdered child’s ravaged body, that forced the world to reckon with the brutality of American racism. For almost a century, African Americans were lynched with regularity and impunity. Now, thanks to a mother’s determination to expose the barbarousness of the crime, the public could no longer pretend to ignore what they couldn’t see.
(Photo credit: David Jackson).
26. Cotton Mill Girl, 1908
Working as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, Lewis Hine believed that images of child labor would force citizens to demand change. The muckraker conned his way into mills and factories from Massachusetts to South Carolina by posing as a Bible seller, insurance agent or industrial photographer in order to tell the plight of nearly 2 million children. Carting around a large-format camera and jotting down information in a hidden notebook, Hine recorded children laboring in meatpacking houses, coal mines and canneries, and in November 1908 he came upon Sadie Pfeifer, who embodied the world he exposed.
A 48-inch-tall wisp of a girl, she was “one of the many small children at work” manning a gargantuan cotton-spinning machine in Lancaster, S.C. Since Hine often had to lie to get his shots, he made “double-sure that my photo data was 100% pure—no retouching or fakery of any kind.” His images of children as young as 8 dwarfed by the cogs of a cold, mechanized universe squarely set the horrors of child labor before the public, leading to regulatory legislation and cutting the number of child laborers nearly in half from 1910 to 1920.
(Photo credit: Lewis Hine).
27. Hitler At A Nazi Party Rally, 1934
Spectacle was like oxygen for the Nazis, and Heinrich Hoffmann was instrumental in staging Hitler’s growing pageant of power. Hoffmann, who joined the party in 1920 and became Hitler’s personal photographer and confidant, was charged with choreographing the regime’s propaganda carnivals and selling them to a wounded German public. Nowhere did Hoffmann do it better than on September 30, 1934, in his rigidly symmetrical photo at the Bückeberg Harvest Festival, where the Mephistophelian Führer swaggers at the center of a grand Wagnerian fantasy of adoring and heiling troops. By capturing this and so many other extravaganzas, Hoffmann—who took more than 2 million photos of his boss—fed the regime’s vast propaganda machine and spread its demonic dream.
Such images were all-pervasive in Hitler’s Reich, which shrewdly used Hoffman’s photos, the stark graphics on Nazi banners and the films of Leni Riefenstahl to make Aryanism seem worthy of godlike worship. Humiliated by World War I, punishing reparations and the Great Depression, a nation eager to reclaim its sense of self was rallied by Hitler’s visage and his seemingly invincible men aching to right wrongs. Hoffmann’s expertly rendered propaganda is a testament to photography’s power to move nations and plunge a world into war.
(Photo credit: Heinrich Hoffmann).
28. Gandhi And The Spinning Wheel, 1946
When the British held Mohandas Gandhi prisoner at Yeravda prison in Pune, India, from 1932 to 1933, the nationalist leader made his own thread with a charkha, a portable spinning wheel. The practice evolved from a source of personal comfort during captivity into a touchstone of the campaign for independence, with Gandhi encouraging his countrymen to make their own homespun cloth instead of buying British goods. By the time Margaret Bourke-White came to Gandhi’s compound for a life article on India’s leaders, spinning was so bound up with Gandhi’s identity that his secretary, Pyarelal Nayyar, told Bourke-White that she had to learn the craft before photographing the leader.
Bourke-White’s picture of Gandhi reading the news alongside his charkha never appeared in the article for which it was taken, but less than two years later life featured the photo prominently in a tribute published after Gandhi’s assassination. It soon became an indelible image, the slain civil-disobedience crusader with his most potent symbol, and helped solidify the perception of Gandhi outside the subcontinent as a saintly man of peace.
(Photo credit: Margaret Bourke-White).
29. Fetus, 18 Weeks, 1965
When LIFE published Lennart Nilsson’s photo essay “Drama of Life Before Birth” in 1965, the issue was so popular that it sold out within days. And for good reason. Nilsson’s images publicly revealed for the first time what a developing fetus looks like, and in the process raised pointed new questions about when life begins. In the accompanying story, LIFE 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.”
Nilsson had struck a deal with a hospital in Stockholm, whose doctors called him whenever a fetus was available to photograph. There, in a dedicated room with lights and lenses specially designed for the project, Nilsson arranged the fetuses so they appeared to be floating as if in the womb. In the years since Nilsson’s essay was published, the images have been widely appropriated without his permission. Antiabortion activists in particular have used them to advance their cause. (Nilsson has never taken a public stand on abortion.) Still, decades after they first appeared, Nilsson’s images endure for their unprecedentedly clear, detailed view of human life at its earliest stages.
(Photo credit: Lennart Nilsson).
30. D-Day, 1944
It was the invasion to save civilization, and LIFE’s Robert Capa was there, the only still photographer to wade with the 34,250 troops onto Omaha Beach during the D-Day landing. His photographs—infused with jarring movement from the center of that brutal assault—gave the public an American soldier’s view of the dangers of war. The soldier in this case was Private First Class Huston Riley, who after the Nazis shelled his landing craft jumped into water so deep that he had to walk along the bottom until he could hold his breath no more. When he activated his Navy M-26 belt life preservers and floated to the surface, Riley became a target for the guns and artillery shells mowing down his comrades. Struck several times, the 22-year-old soldier took about half an hour to reach the Normandy shore.
Capa took this photo of him in the surf and then with the assistance of a sergeant helped Riley, who later recalled thinking, “What the hell is this guy doing here? I can’t believe it. Here’s a cameraman on the shore.” Capa spent an hour and a half under fire as men around him died. A courier then transported his four rolls of film to LIFE’s London offices, and the magazine’s general manager stopped the presses to get them into the June 19 issue. Most of the film, though, showed no images after processing, and only some frames survived. The remaining images have a grainy, blurry look that gives them the frenetic feel of action, a quality that has come to define our collective memory of that epic clash.
(Photo credit: Robert Capa).
31. The Pillow Fight, 1964
Harry Benson didn’t want to meet the Beatles. The Glasgow-born photographer had plans to cover a news story in Africa when he was assigned to photograph the musicians 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.’ ” The Beatles were on the cusp of greatness, and Benson was in the middle of it. His pillow-fight photo, 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., freezes John, Paul, George and Ringo in an exuberant cascade of boyish talent—and perhaps their last moment of unbridled innocence.
It captures the sheer joy, happiness and optimism that would be embraced as Beatlemania and that helped lift America’s morale just 11 weeks after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The following month, Benson accompanied the Fab Four as they flew to New York City to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, kick-starting the British Invasion. The trip led to decades of collaboration with the group and, as Benson later recalled, “I was so close to not being there.”
(Photo credit: Harry Benson).
32. The Face Of Aids, 1990
Full story on this article. David Kirby died surrounded by his family. But Therese Frare’s photograph of the 32-year-old man on his deathbed did more than just capture the heartbreaking moment. It humanized AIDS, the disease that killed Kirby, at a time when it was ravaging victims largely out of public view. Frare’s photograph, published in LIFE in 1990, showed how the widely misunderstood disease devastated more than just its victims. It would be another year before the red ribbon became a symbol of compassion and resilience, and three years before President Bill Clinton created a White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
In 1992 the clothing company Benetton used a colorized version of Frare’s photograph in a series of provocative ads. Many magazines refused to run it, and a range of groups called for a boycott. But Kirby’s family consented to its use, believing that the ad helped raise critical awareness about AIDS at a moment when the disease was still uncontrolled and sufferers were lobbying the federal government to speed the development of new drugs. “We just felt it was time that people saw the truth about AIDS,” Kirby’s mother Kay said. Thanks to Frare’s image, they did.
(Photo credit: Therese Frare).
33. First Cell-Phone Picture, 1997
Boredom can be a powerful incentive. In 1997, Philippe Kahn was stuck in a Northern California maternity ward with nothing to do. The software entrepreneur had been shooed away by his wife while she birthed their daughter, Sophie. So Kahn, who had been tinkering with technologies that share images instantly, jerry-built a device that could send a photo of his newborn to friends and family—in real time. Like any invention, the setup was crude: a digital camera connected to his flip-top cell phone, synched by a few lines of code he’d written on his laptop in the hospital. But the effect has transformed the world: Kahn’s device captured his daughter’s first moments and transmitted them instantly to more than 2,000 people.
Kahn soon refined his ad hoc prototype, and in 2000 Sharp used his technology to release the first commercially available integrated camera phone, in Japan. The phones were introduced to the U.S. market a few years later and soon became ubiquitous. Kahn’s invention forever altered how we communicate, perceive and experience the world and laid the groundwork for smartphones and photo-sharing applications like Instagram and Snapchat. Phones are now used to send hundreds of millions of images around the world every day—including a fair number of baby pictures.
(Photo credit: Philippe Kahn).
34. Raising A Flag Over The Reichstag, 1945
Full story on this article. “This is what I was waiting for for 1,400 days,” the Ukrainian-born Yevgeny Khaldei said as he gazed at the ruins of Berlin on May 2, 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. Gazing through his camera, Khaldei knew he had the shot he had hoped for: “I was euphoric.”
In printing, Khaldei dramatized the image by intensifying the smoke and darkening the sky—even scratching out part of the negative—to craft a romanticized scene that was part reality, part artifice and all patriotism. Published in the Russian magazine Ogonek, the image became an instant propaganda icon. And no wonder. The flag jutting from the heart of the enemy exalted the nobility of communism, proclaimed the Soviets the new overlords and hinted that by lowering the curtain of war, Premier Joseph Stalin would soon hoist a cold new iron one across the land.
(Photo credit: Yevgeny Khaldei).
35. Behind Closed Doors, 1982
There was nothing particularly special about Garth and Lisa or the violence that happened in the bathroom of their suburban New Jersey home one night in 1982. Enraged by a perceived slight, Garth beat his wife while she cowered in a corner. Such acts of intimate-partner violence are not uncommon, but they usually happen in private. This time another person was in the room, photographer Donna Ferrato. 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. Their real names are Elisabeth and Bengt; his identity was revealed for the first time as part of this project. Ferrato captured incidents and victims while living inside women’s shelters and shadowing police. Her work helped bring violence against women out of the shadows and forced policymakers to confront the issue. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, increasing penalties against offenders and helping train police to treat it as a serious crime. Thanks to Ferrato, a private tragedy became a public cause.
(Photo credit: Donna Ferrato).
36. Famine In Somalia, 1992
James Nachtwey couldn’t get an assignment in 1992 to document the spiraling famine in Somalia. Mogadishu had become engulfed in armed conflict as food prices soared and international assistance failed to keep pace. Yet few in the West took much notice, so the American photographer went on his own to Somalia, where he received support from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Nachtwey brought back a cache of haunting images, including this scene of a woman waiting to be taken to a feeding center in a wheelbarrow. After it was published as part of a cover feature in the New York Times Magazine, one reader wrote, “Dare we say that it doesn’t get any worse than this?” The world was similarly moved. The Red Cross said public support resulted in what was then its largest operation since World War II. One and a half million people were saved, the ICRC’s Jean-Daniel Tauxe told the Times, and “James’ pictures made the difference.”
(Photo credit: James Nachtwey).
37. Muhammad Ali Vs. Sonny Liston, 1965
So much of great photography is being in the right spot at the right moment. That was what it was like for sports illustrated photographer Neil Leifer when he shot perhaps the greatest sports photo of the century. “I was obviously in the right seat, but what matters is I didn’t miss,” he later said. Leifer had taken that ringside spot in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965, as 23-year-old heavyweight boxing champion 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!” Powerful overhead lights and thick clouds of cigar smoke had turned the ring into the perfect studio, and Leifer took full advantage. His perfectly composed image captures Ali radiating the strength and poetic brashness that made him the nation’s most beloved and reviled athlete, at a moment when sports, politics and popular culture were being squarely battered in the tumult of the ’60s.
(Photo credit: Neil Leifer).
38. The Situation Room, 2011
Official White House photographers document Presidents at play and at work, on the phone with world leaders and presiding over Oval Office meetings. But sometimes the unique access allows them to capture watershed moments that become our collective memory. On May 1, 2011, Pete Souza was inside the Situation Room as U.S. forces raided Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound 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. Photographs of the dead body have never been released, leaving Souza’s photo and the tension it captured as the only public image of the moment the war on terror notched its most important victory.
(Photo credit: Pete Souza).
39. Nuit De Noel, 1963
Malian photographer Malick Sidibé’s life followed the trajectory of his nation. He started out herding his family’s goats, then trained in jewelry making, painting and photography. As French colonial rule ended in 1960, he captured the subtle and profound changes reshaping his nation. 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. What Sidibé called his “talent to observe” allowed him to capture their quiet intimacy, heads brushing as they grace an empty dance floor. “We were entering a new era, and people wanted to dance,” Sidibé said. “Music freed us. Suddenly, young men could get close to young women, hold them in their hands. Before, it was not allowed. And everyone wanted to be photographed dancing up close.”
(Photo credit: Malick Sidibe).
40. Saigon Execution, 1968Full story on this article. The act was stunning in its casualness. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams was on the streets of Saigon on February 1, 1968, two days after the forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong set off the Tet offensive and swarmed into dozens of South Vietnamese cities. As Adams photographed the turmoil, 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 summarily fired a bullet through Lem’s head.
After shooting the suspect, the general justified the suddenness of his actions by saying, “If you hesitate, if you didn’t do your duty, the men won’t follow you.” The Tet offensive raged into March. Yet while U.S. forces beat back the communists, press reports of the anarchy convinced Americans that the war was unwinnable. The freezing of the moment of Lem’s death symbolized for many the brutality over there, and the picture’s widespread publication helped galvanize growing sentiment in America about the futility of the fight. More important, Adams’ photo ushered in a more intimate level of war photojournalism. He won a Pulitzer Prize for this image, and as he commented three decades later about the reach of his work, “Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.”
(Photo credit: Eddie Adams).
41. Black Power Salute, 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. “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat,” Carlos later said. John Dominis, a quick-fingered life photographer known for capturing unexpected moments, shot a close-up that revealed another layer: Smith in black socks, his running shoes off, in a gesture meant to symbolize black poverty. Published in life, Dominis’ image turned the somber protest into an iconic emblem of the turbulent 1960s.
(Photo credit: John Dominis).
42. Soweto Uprising, 1976
Few outside South Africa paid much attention to apartheid before June 16, 1976, when several thousand Soweto students set out to protest the introduction of mandatory Afrikaans-language instruction in their township schools. Along the way they gathered youngsters from other schools, including a 13-year-old student named Hector Pieterson. Skirmishes started to break out with the police, and at one point officers fired tear gas. When students hurled stones, the police shot real bullets into the crowd. “At first, I ran away from the scene,” recalled Sam Nzima, who was covering the protests for the World, the paper that was the house organ of black Johannesburg. “But then, after recovering myself, I went back.” That is when Nzima says he spotted Pieterson fall down as gunfire showered above. He kept taking pictures as terrified high schooler Mbuyisa Makhubu picked up the lifeless boy and ran with Pieterson’s sister, Antoinette Sithole.
What began as a peaceful protest soon turned into a violent uprising, claiming hundreds of lives across South Africa. Prime Minister John Vorster warned, “This government will not be intimidated.” But the armed rulers were powerless against Nzima’s photo of Pieterson, which showed how the South African regime killed its own people. The picture’s publication forced Nzima into hiding amid death threats, but its effect could not have been more visible. Suddenly the world could no longer ignore apartheid. The seeds of international opposition that would eventually topple the racist system had been planted by a photograph.
(Photo credit: Sam Nzima).
43. The Horse In Motion, 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. The revelation, imperceptible to the naked eye but apparent through photography, marked a new purpose for the medium. It could capture truth through technology. Muybridge’s stop-motion technique was an early form of animation that helped pave the way for the motion-picture industry, born a short decade later.
(Photo credit: Eadweard Muybridge).
44. Abraham Lincoln, 1860
Abraham Lincoln was a little-known one-term Illinois Congressman with national aspirations when he arrived in New York City in February 1860 to speak at the Cooper Union. The speech had to be perfect, but Lincoln also knew the importance of image. Before taking to the podium, he stopped at the Broadway photography studio of Mathew B. Brady. The portraitist, who had photographed everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to James Fenimore Cooper and would chronicle the coming Civil War, knew a thing or two about presentation. 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.”
By capturing Lincoln’s youthful features before the ravages of the Civil War would etch his face with the strains of the Oval Office, Brady presented him as a calm contender in the fractious antebellum era. Lincoln’s subsequent talk before a largely Republican audience of 1,500 was a resounding success, and Brady’s picture soon appeared in publications like Harper’s Weekly and on cartes de visite and election posters and buttons, making it the most powerful early instance of a photo used as campaign propaganda. As the portrait spread, it propelled Lincoln from the edge of greatness to the White House, where he preserved the Union and ended slavery. As Lincoln later admitted, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me President of the United States.”
(Photo credit: Mathew Brady).
45. Iraqi Girl At Checkpoint, 2005
Moments before American photojournalist Chris Hondros took this picture of Samar Hassan, the little girl was in the backseat of her family’s car as they drove home from the Iraqi city of Tall ‘Afar. Now Samar was an orphan, her parents shot dead by U.S. soldiers who had opened fire because they feared the car might be carrying insurgents or a suicide bomber. It was January 2005, and the war in Iraq was at its most brutal.
Such horrific accidents were not rare in that chaotic conflict, but they had never been documented in real time. Hondros, who worked for Getty Images, was embedded with the Army unit when the shooting happened. He transmitted his photographs immediately, and by the following day they were published around the world. The images led the U.S. military to revise its checkpoint procedures, but their greater effect was in compelling an already skeptical public to ask why American soldiers were killing the people they had ostensibly come to liberate and protect. Hondros was killed during the civil war in Libya in 2011.
(Photo credit: Chris Hondros).
46. Gorilla In The Congo, 2007
Senkwekwe the silverback mountain gorilla weighed at least 500 pounds when his carcass was strapped to a makeshift stretcher, and it took more than a dozen men to hoist it into the air. Brent Stirton captured the scene while in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Senkwekwe and several other gorillas were shot dead as a violent conflict engulfed the park, where half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas live.
When Stirton photographed residents and park rangers respectfully carrying Senkwekwe out of the forest in 2007, the park was under siege by people illegally harvesting wood to be used in a charcoal industry that grew in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. In the photo, Senkwekwe looks huge but vaguely human, a reminder that conflict in Central Africa affects more than just the humans caught in its cross fire; it also touches the region’s environment and animal inhabitants. Three months after Stirton’s photograph was published in Newsweek, nine African countries—including Congo—signed a legally binding treaty to help protect the mountain gorillas in Virunga.
(Photo credit: Brent Stirton).
47. Bandit’s Roost, Mulberry Street, circa 1888
Late 19th-century New York City was a magnet for the world’s immigrants, and the vast majority of them found not streets paved with gold but nearly subhuman squalor. While polite society turned a blind eye, brave reporters like the Danish-born Jacob Riis documented this shame of the Gilded Age.
Riis did this by venturing 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. Such work became the basis of his revelatory book How the Other Half Lives, which forced Americans to confront what they had long ignored and galvanized reformers like the young New York politician Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote to the photographer, “I have read your book, and I have come to help.” Riis’ work was instrumental in bringing about New York State’s landmark Tenement House Act of 1901, which improved conditions for the poor. And his crusading approach and direct, confrontational style ushered in the age of documentary and muckraking photojournalism.
(Photo credit: Jacob Riis).
48. Milk Drop Coronet, 1957
Before Harold Edgerton rigged a milk dropper next to a timer and a camera of his own invention, it was virtually impossible to take a good photo in the dark without bulky equipment. It was similarly futile to try to photograph a fleeting moment. But 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, and the technology Edgerton used to take it laid the foundation for the modern electronic flash. Edgerton worked for years to perfect his milk-drop photographs, many of which were black and white; one version was featured in the first photography exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, in 1937. And while the man known as Doc captured other blink-and-you-missed-it moments, like balloons bursting and a bullet piercing an apple, his milk drop remains a quintessential example of photography’s ability to make art out of evidence.
(Photo credit: Harold Edgerton).
49. Surfing Hippos, 2000
Seven billion human beings take up a certain amount of space, which is one reason why wilderness—true, untouched wilderness—is fast dwindling around the world. Even in Africa, where lions and elephants still roam, the space for wild animals is shrinking. That’s what makes Michael Nichols’ photograph so special. 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. The photograph itself is reliably beautiful, the eyes and snout of the hippo peeking just above the rippling ocean surface. But its effect was more than aesthetic. Gabon President Omar Bongo was inspired by Nichols’ pictures to create a system of national parks that now cover 11 percent of the country, ensuring that there will be at least some space left for the wild.
(Photo credit: Michael Nichols).
50. Moonlight: The Pond, 1904
Is Edward Steichen’s ethereal image a photograph or a painting? It’s both, and that was exactly his point. 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 year before he created Moonlight, Steichen wrote an essay arguing that altering photos was no different than choosing when and where to click the shutter. Photographers, he said, always have a perspective that necessarily distorts the authenticity of their images. Although Steichen eventually abandoned Pictorialism, the movement’s influence can be seen in every photographer who seeks to create scenes, not merely capture them. Moonlight, too, continues to resonate. A century after Steichen made the image, a print sold for nearly $3 million.
(Photo credit: Edward Steichen).
51. The Vanishing Race, 1904
Native Americans were the great casualty of the U.S.’s grand westward advance. As settlers tamed the seemingly boundless stretches of the young nation, they evicted Indians from their ancestral lands, shoving them into impoverished reservations and forcing them to assimilate. 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. To Curtis the photo epitomized the plight of the Indians, who were “passing into the darkness of an unknown future.” Alas, Curtis’ encyclopedic work did more than convey the theme—it cemented a stereotype. Railroad companies soon lured tourists west with trips to glimpse the last of a dying people, and Indians came to be seen as a relic out of time, not an integral part of modern American society. It’s a perception that persists to this day.
(Photo credit: Edward S. Curtis).
52. Betty Grable, 1943
Helen of Troy, the mythic Greek demigod who sparked the Trojan War and “launch’d a thousand ships,” had nothing on Betty Grable of St. Louis. For that platinum blond, blue-eyed Hollywood starlet had a set of gams that inspired American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to set forth to save civilization from the Axis powers. And unlike Helen, Betty represented the flesh-and-blood “girl back home,” patiently keeping the fires burning. 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. The men took Betty wherever they went, tacking her poster to barrack walls, painting her on bomber fuselages and fastening 2-by-3 prints of her next to their hearts. Before Marilyn Monroe, Betty’s smile and legs—said to be insured for a million bucks with Lloyd’s of London—rallied countless homesick young men in the fight of their lives (including a young Hugh Hefner, who cited her as an inspiration for Playboy). “I’ve got to be an enlisted man’s girl,” said Grable, who signed hundreds of her pinups each month during the war. “Just like this has got to be an enlisted man’s war.”
(Photo credit: Frank Powolny).
53. Case Study House No. 22, Los Angeles, 1960
For decades, the California Dream meant the chance to own a stucco home on a sliver of paradise. The point was the yard with the palm trees, not the contour of the walls. 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. Shulman photographed most of the houses in the project, helping demystify modernism by highlighting its graceful simplicity and humanizing its angular edges. But 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 mythic, twinkling city. The photo, which he called “one of my masterpieces,” is the most successful real estate image ever taken. It perfected the art of aspirational staging, turning a house into the embodiment of the Good Life, of stardusted Hollywood, of California as the Promised Land. And, thanks to Shulman, that dream now includes a glass box in the sky.
(Photo credit: Julius Shulman).
54. 99 Cent, 1999
It may seem ironic that a photograph of cheap goods would set a record for the most expensive contemporary photograph ever sold, but Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent is far more than a visual inventory. 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.
As the curator Peter Galassi wrote in the catalog for a 2001 retrospective of Gursky’s work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, “High art versus commerce, conceptual rigor versus spontaneous observation, photography versus painting … for Gursky they are all givens—not opponents but companions.” That ability to render the man-made and mundane with fresh eyes has helped modern photography enter the art world’s elite. In 2006, in the heady days before the Great Recession, 99 Cent sold for $2.3 million at auction. The record for a contemporary photograph has since been surpassed, but the sale did more than any other to catapult modern photography into the pages of auction catalogs alongside the oil paintings and marble sculptures by old masters.
(Photo credit: Andreas Gursky).
55. Blind, 1916
Even if she could see, the woman in Paul Strand’s pioneering image might not have known she was being photographed. 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. The result feels spontaneous and honest, a radical departure from the era’s formal portraits of people in stilted poses.
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. But Strand’s work did more than offer an unflinching look at a moment when the nation was being reshaped by a surge of immigrants. By depicting subjects without their knowledge—or consent—and using their images to promote social awareness, Strand helped pave the way for an entirely new form of documentary art: street photography.
(Photo credit: Paul Strand).
56. The Loch Ness Monster, 1934
If the giraffe never existed, we’d have to invent it. It’s our nature to grow bored with the improbable but real and look for the impossible. So it is with the photo of what was said to be 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 wise and discredited Wetherell, who then returned to the loch with a monster made out of a toy submarine. He and his son used Wilson, a respected physician, to lend the hoax credibility. The Mail endures; Wilson’s reputation doesn’t. The Loch Ness image is something of a lodestone for conspiracy theorists and fable seekers, as is the absolutely authentic picture of the famous face on Mars taken by the Viking probe in 1976. The thrill of that find lasted only until 1998, when the Mars Global Surveyor proved the face was, as NASA said, a topographic formation, one that by that time had been nearly windblown away. We were innocents in those sweet, pre-Photoshop days. Now we know better—and we trust nothing. The art of the fake has advanced, but the charm of it, like the Martian face, is all but gone.
57. Windblown Jackie, 1971
People simply could not get enough of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the beautiful young widow of the slain 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 that ensnared everyone from Michael Jackson and Sophia Loren to Marlon Brando, who so resented Galella’s attention that he knocked out five of the photographer’s teeth. But Galella’s favorite subject was Jackie O., whom he shot to the point of obsession.
It was Galella’s relentless fixation that led him to hop in a taxi and trail Onassis after he spotted her on New York City’s Upper East Side in October 1971. The driver honked his horn, and Galella clicked his shutter just as Onassis turned to look in his direction. “I don’t think she knew it was me,” he recalled. “That’s why she smiled a little.” The picture, which Galella proudly called “my Mona Lisa,” exudes the unguarded spontaneity that marks a great celebrity photo. “It was the iconic photograph of the American celebrity aristocracy, and it created a genre,” says the writer Michael Gross. The image also tested the blurry line between newsgathering and a public figure’s personal rights. Jackie, who resented the constant attention, twice dragged Galella to court and eventually got him banned from photographing her family. No shortage of others followed in his wake.
(Photo credit: Ron Galella).
58. The Hooded Man, 2003
Hundreds of photojournalists covered the conflict in Iraq, but 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. Even before the Iraq War began, many questioned the motives of the American, British and allied governments for the invasion that toppled Saddam. But nothing undermined the allies’ claim that they were helping bring democracy to the country more than the scandal at Abu Ghraib.
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,” partly because it was less explicit than many of the others and so could more easily appear in mainstream publications. The man with outstretched arms in the photograph was deprived of his sight, his clothes, his dignity and, with electric wires, his sense of personal safety. And his pose? It seemed deliberately, unnervingly Christlike. The liberating invaders, it seemed, held nothing sacred.
(Photo credit: Sergeant Ivan Frederick).
59. American Gothic, 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 for a fellowship at the Farm Security Administration (FSA). 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.
She told him of her life of struggle, of a father murdered by a lynch mob, of a husband shot to death. 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. It served as an indictment of the treatment of African Americans by accentuating the inequality in “the land of the free” and came to symbolize life in pre-civil-rights America. “What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism,” Parks later observed, “by showing the people who suffered most under it.”
(Photo credit: Gordon Parks).
60. Invasion Of Prague, 1968
Full story on this article. The Soviets did not care for the “socialism with a human face” that Alexander Dubcek’s government brought to Czechoslovakia. 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. And while they quickly seized control of Prague, they unexpectedly ran up against masses of flag-waving citizens who threw up barricades, stoned tanks, overturned trucks and even removed street signs in order to confuse the troops. 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 a moment of the Soviet invasion with a deserted street in the distance. It beautifully encapsulates time, loss and emptiness—and the strangling of a society. Koudelka’s visual memories of the unfolding conflict—with its evidence of the ticking time, the brutality of the attack and the challenges by Czech citizens—redefined photojournalism. His pictures were smuggled out of Czechoslovakia and appeared in the London Sunday Times in 1969, though under the pseudonym P.P. for Prague Photographer since Koudelka feared reprisals. He soon fled, his rationale for leaving the country a testament to the power of photographic evidence: “I was afraid to go back to Czechoslovakia because I knew that if they wanted to find out who the unknown photographer was, they could do it.”
(Photo credit: Invasion Of Prague, Josef Koudelka, 1968).
61. Bosnia, 1992
It can take time for even the most shocking images to have an effect. 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 had gained access to the Tigers, a brutal nationalist militia that had warned him not to photograph any killings. But 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. Still, the war continued for more than three years, and Haviv—who was put on a hit list by the Tigers’ leader, Zeljko Raznatovic, or Arkan—was frustrated by the tepid reaction. Almost 100,000 people lost their lives. Before his assassination in 2000, Arkan was indicted for crimes against humanity. Haviv’s image was used as evidence against him and other perpetrators of what became known as ethnic cleansing.
(Photo credit: Ron Haviv).
62. Boulevard Du Temple, 1839
The shoe shiner working on Paris’ Boulevard du Temple one spring day in 1839 had no idea he would make history. But 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 artworks. That changed when Daguerre fixed his lens on a Paris street and then exposed a silver-plated sheet of copper for several minutes (though others came into the frame, they did not stay long enough to be captured), developed and fixed the image using chemicals. The result was the first mirror-image photograph. Unlike earlier efforts, daguerreotypes were sharp and permanent. And though they were eventually outpaced by newer innovations—daguerreotypes were not reproducible, nor could they be printed on paper—Daguerre did more than perhaps anyone else to show the vast potential of the new medium of photography.
(Photo credit: Louis Daguerre).
63. The Dead Of Antietam, 1862
It was at Antietam, the blood-churning battle in Sharpsburg, Md., where more Americans died in a single day than ever had before, that one Union soldier recalled how “the piles of dead … were frightful.” The Scottish-born photographer Alexander Gardner arrived there two days after the September 17, 1862, slaughter. He set up his stereo wet-plate camera and started taking dozens of images of the body-strewn countryside, documenting fallen soldiers, burial crews and trench graves. Gardner worked for Mathew Brady, and when he returned to New York City his employer arranged an exhibition of the work. Visitors were greeted with a plain sign reading “The Dead of Antietam.” But what they saw was anything but simple.
Genteel society came upon what are believed to be the first recorded images of war casualties. Gardner’s photographs are so sharp that people could make out faces. The death was unfiltered, and a war that had seemed remote suddenly became harrowingly immediate. Gardner helped make Americans realize the significance of the fratricide that by 1865 would take more than 600,000 lives. For in the hallowed fields fell not faceless strangers but sons, brothers, fathers, cousins and friends. And Gardner’s images of Antietam created a lasting legacy by establishing a painfully potent visual precedent for the way all wars have since been covered.
(Photo credit: Alexander Gardner).
64. Winston Churchill, 1941
Britain stood alone in 1941. By then Poland, France and large parts of Europe had fallen to the Nazi forces, and it was only the tiny nation’s pilots, soldiers and sailors, along with those of the Commonwealth, who kept the darkness at bay. Winston Churchill was determined that the light of England would continue to shine. 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.” Ever the diplomat, Churchill then smiled and said, “You may take another one” and shook Karsh’s hand, telling him, “You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.” The result of Karsh’s lion taming is one of the most widely reproduced images in history and a watershed in the art of political portraiture. It was Karsh’s picture of the bulldoggish Churchill—published first in the American daily PM and eventually on the cover of LIFE—that gave modern photographers permission to make honest, even critical portrayals of our leaders.
(Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh).
65. Munich Massacre, 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. Armed with grenades and assault rifles, the terrorists killed two team members, took nine hostage and demanded the release of 234 of their jailed compatriots.
The 21-hour hostage standoff presented the world with its first live window on terrorism, and 900 million people tuned in. 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. As the Palestinians attempted to flee, German snipers tried to take them out, and the Palestinians killed the hostages and a policeman. The already fraught Arab-Israeli relationship became even more so, and the siege led to retaliatory attacks on Palestinian bases. Strumpf’s photo of that specter with cut-out eyes is a sobering reminder of how we were all diminished when the world realized that nothing was secure.
(Photo credit: Kurt Strumpf).
66. JFK Assassination, Frame 313, 1963
It is the most famous home movie ever, and the most carefully studied image, an 8-millimeter film that captured the death of a President. The movie is just as well known for what many say it does or does not reveal, and its existence has fostered countless conspiracy theories about that day in Dallas. But no one would argue that what it shows is not utterly heartbreaking, the last moments of life of the youthful and charismatic John Fitzgerald Kennedy as he rode with his wife Jackie through Dealey Plaza. 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. LIFE correspondent Richard Stolley bought the film the following day, and the magazine ran 31 of the 486 frames—which meant that the first public viewing of Zapruder’s famous film was as a series of still images. At the time, LIFE withheld the gruesome frame No. 313—a picture that became influential by its absence. That one, where the bullet exploded the side of Kennedy’s head, is still shocking when seen today, a reminder of the seeming suddenness of death. What Zapruder captured that sunny day would haunt him for the rest of his life. It is something that unsettles America, a dark dream that hovers at the back of our collective psyche, an image from a wisp of 26.5 seconds of film whose gut-wrenching impact reminds us how everything can change in a fraction of a moment.
(Photo credit: Abraham Zapruder).
67. Kent State Shootings, 1970
The shooting at Kent State University in Ohio lasted 13 seconds. When it was over, four students were dead, nine were wounded, and the innocence of a generation was shattered. 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.
Filo’s photograph was put out on the AP wire and printed on the front page of the New York Times. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and has since become the visual symbol of a hopeful nation’s lost youth. As Neil Young wrote in the song “Ohio,” inspired by a LIFE story featuring Filo’s images, “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming/ We’re finally on our own/ This summer I hear the drumming/ Four dead in Ohio.”
(Photo credit: John Paul Filo).
68. The Falling Soldier, 1936
Full story on this article. Robert Capa made his seminal photograph of the Spanish Civil War without ever looking through his viewfinder. Widely considered one of the best combat photographs ever made, and the first to show battlefield death in action, Capa said in a 1947 radio interview that he was in the trenches with Republican militiamen. The men would pop aboveground to charge and fire old rifles at a machine gun manned by troops loyal to Francisco Franco. Each time, the militiamen would get gunned down. 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.
In the 1970s, decades after it was published in the French magazine Vu and LIFE, a South African journalist named O.D. Gallagher claimed that Capa had told him the image was staged. But no confirmation was ever presented, and most believe that Capa’s is a genuine candid photograph of a Spanish militiaman being shot. Capa’s image elevated war photography to a new level long before journalists were formally embedded with combat troops, showing how crucial, if dangerous, it is for photographers to be in the middle of the action.
(Photo credit: Robert Capa).
69. Grief, 1942The Polish-born Dmitri Baltermants had planned to be a math teacher but instead fell in love with photography. Just as World War II broke out, he 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!” At the time the Soviet Union considered Nazi Germany its ally. But after Adolf Hitler turned on his comrades and invaded the Soviet Union, Baltermants’ mission changed too. 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 antitank ditch and shot them.” There Baltermants came upon a bleak, corpse-choked field, the outstretched limbs of old and young alike frozen in the last moment of pleading. Some of the gathered townspeople wailed, their arms wide. Others hunched in paroxysms of grief. Baltermants, who witnessed more than his share of death, recorded what he saw. Yet these images of mass Nazi murders on Soviet soil were too graphic for his nation’s leaders, wary of displaying the suffering of their people. Like many of Baltermants’ photos, this one was censored, being shown only decades later as liberalism seeped into Russian society in the 1960s. When it finally emerged, Baltermants’ picture allowed generations of Russians to form a collective memory of their great war. “You do your work the best you can,” he somberly observed, “and someday it will surface.”
(Photo credit: Grief, Dmitri Baltermants, 1942).
70. Birmingham, Alabama, 1963
Sometimes the most effective mirror is a photograph. 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.
Though he photographed many other seminal moments of the movement, it was Moore’s image of a police dog tearing into a black protester’s pants that captured the routine, even casual, brutality of segregation. When the picture was published in life, it quickly became apparent to the rest of the world what Moore had long known: ending segregation was not about eroding culture but about restoring humanity. Hesitant politicians soon took up the cause and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 nearly a year later.
(Photo credit: Charles Moore).
71. Camelot, 1953
Before they could become American royalty, America needed to meet John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. That introduction came when Hy Peskin photographed the handsome politician on the make and his radiant fiancée over a summer weekend in 1953. Peskin, a renowned sports photographer, headed to Hyannis Port, Mass., at the invitation of family patriarch Joseph Kennedy. The ambassador, eager for his son to take the stage as a national figure, thought a feature in the pages of LIFE would foster a fascination with John, his pretty girlfriend and one of America’s wealthiest families. That it did. 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 mussing 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. “They just shoved me into that boat long enough to take the picture,” she later confided to a friend. It was pitch-perfect brand making, with Kennedy on the cover of the world’s most widely read photo magazine, cast as a self-assured playboy prepared to say goodbye to bachelorhood. A few months later LIFE would cover the couple’s wedding, and by then America was captivated. In the staid age of Dwight David Eisenhower and Richard Milhous Nixon, Peskin unveiled the face of Camelot, one that changed America’s perception of politics and politicians, and set John and Jackie off on becoming the most recognizable couple on the planet.
(Photo credit: Hy Peskin).
72. The Babe Bows Out, 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—known to all in attendance as the House That Ruth Built—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.
But as the sound of “Auld Lang Syne” filled the stadium, 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. From that spot, Fein captured the almost mythic role that athletes play in our lives—even at their weakest, they loom large. Two months later Ruth was dead, and Fein went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his picture. It was the first one awarded to a sports photographer, giving critical legitimacy to a form other than hard-news reportage.
(Photo credit: Nat Fein).
73. Country Doctor, 1948
Although lauded for his war photography, W. Eugene Smith left his most enduring mark with a series of midcentury photo essays for LIFE magazine. The Wichita, Kans.–born photographer spent weeks immersing himself in his subjects’ lives, from a South Carolina nurse-midwife to 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.”
Smith spent 23 days with Dr. Ernest Ceriani in and around Kremmling, Colo., trailing the hardy physician through the ranching community of 2,000 souls beneath the Rocky Mountains. He watched him tend to infants, deliver injections in the backseats of cars, develop his own x-rays, treat a man with a heart attack and then phone a priest to give last rites. By digging so deeply into his assignment, Smith created a singular, starkly intimate glimpse into the life of a remarkable man. It became not only the most influential photo essay in history but the aspirational template for the form.
(Photo credit: W. Eugene Smith).
74. Boat Of No Smiles, 1977
It’s easy to ignore the plight of refugees. They are seen as numbers more than people, moving from one distant land to the next. But a picture can puncture that illusion. 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.
Often they were pushed back into the abyss and told to go somewhere else. Adams boarded the packed fishing boat and began shooting. He didn’t have long. Eventually Thai authorities demanded that he disembark—wary, Adams believed, that his presence would create sympathy for the refugees that might compel Thailand to open its doors. On that score, they were right. Adams transmitted his pictures and wrote a short report, and within days they were published widely. The images were presented to Congress, helping to open the doors for more than 200,000 refugees from Vietnam to enter the U.S. from 1978 to 1981. “The pictures did it,” Adams said, “pushed it over.”
(Photo credit: Eddie Adams).
75. Firing Squad In Iran, 1979
Few images are as stark as one of an execution. On August 27, 1979, 11 men who had been convicted of being “counterrevolutionary” by the regime of Iranian ruler Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini were lined up on a dirt field at Sanandaj Airport and gunned down side by side. No international journalists witnessed the killings. They had been banned from Iran by Khomeini, which meant it was up to the domestic press to chronicle the bloody conflict between the theocracy and the local Kurds, who had been denied representation in Khomeini’s government. The Iranian photographer Jahangir Razmi had been tipped off to the trial, and he shot two rolls of film at the executions.
One image, with bodies crumpled on the ground and another man moments from joining them, was published anonymously on the front page of the Iranian daily Ettela’at. Within hours, members of the Islamic Revolutionary Council appeared at the paper’s office and demanded the photographer’s name. The editor refused. Days later, the picture was picked up by the news service UPI and trumpeted in papers around the world as evidence of the murderous nature of Khomeini’s brand of religious government. The following year, Firing Squad in Iran was awarded the Pulitzer Prize—the only anonymous winner in history. It was not until 2006 that Razmi was revealed as the photographer.
(Photo credit: Jahangir Razmi).
76. Coffin Ban, 2004
By April 2004, some 700 U.S. troops had been killed on the battlefield in Iraq, but images of the dead returning home in coffins were never seen. 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. To critics, the policy was simply a way of sanitizing an increasingly bloody conflict. As a government contractor working for a cargo company in Kuwait, Tami Silicio was moved by the increasingly human freight she was loading and felt compelled to share what she was seeing. On April 7, Silicio used her Nikon Coolpix to photograph more than 20 flag-draped coffins as they passed through Kuwait on their way to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
She emailed the picture to a friend in the U.S., who forwarded it to a photo editor at the Seattle Times. With Silicio’s permission, the Times put the photo on its front page on April 18—and immediately set off a firestorm. Within days, Silicio was fired from her job and a debate raged over the ethics of publishing the images. While the government claimed that families of troops killed in action agreed with its policy, many felt that the pictures should not be censored. In late 2009, during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, the Pentagon lifted the ban.
(Photo credit: Tami Silicio).
77. Dovima With Elephants, Paris, 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, and he was one of the most famous fashion photographers. It makes sense, then, that Dovima With Elephants is one of the most famous fashion photographs of all time. But its enduring influence lies as much in what it captures as in the two people who made it. Dovima was one of the last great models of the sophisticated mold, when haute couture was a relatively cloistered and elite world. After the 1950s, models began to gravitate toward girl-next-door looks instead of the old generation’s unattainable beauty, helping turn high fashion into entertainment. Dovima With Elephants distills that shift by juxtaposing the spectacle and strength of the elephants with Dovima’s beauty—and the delicacy of her gown, which was the first Dior dress designed by Yves Saint Laurent.
The picture also brings movement to a medium that was previously typified by stillness. Models had long been mannequins, meant to stand still while the clothes got all the attention. Avedon saw what was wrong with that equation: clothes didn’t just make the man; the man also made the clothes. And by moving models out of the studio and placing them against exciting backdrops, he helped blur the line between commercial fashion photography and art. In that way, Dovima With Elephants captures a turning point in our broader culture: the last old-style model, setting fashion off on its new path.
(Photo credit: August, Richard Avedon).
78. Michael Jordan, 1984
It may be the most famous silhouette ever photographed. Shooting Michael Jordan for LIFE in 1984, 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. A beautiful image, but one unlikely to have endured had Nike not devised a logo for its young star that bore a striking resemblance to the photo. Seeking design inspiration for its first Air Jordan sneakers, Nike paid Rentmeester $150 for temporary use of his slides from the life shoot. Soon, “Jumpman” was etched onto shoes, clothing and bedroom walls around the world, eventually becoming one of the most popular commercial icons of all time.
With Jumpman, Nike created the concept of athletes as valuable commercial properties unto themselves. The Air Jordan brand, which today features other superstar pitchmen, earned $3.2 billion in 2014. Rentmeester, meanwhile, has sued Nike for copyright infringement. No matter the outcome, it’s clear his image captures the ascendance of sports celebrity into a multibillion-dollar business, and it’s still taking off.
(Photo credit: Co Rentmeester).
79. The Death Of Neda, 2009Neda Agha-Soltan was an unlikely viral icon. On June 20, 2009, the 26-year-old stepped out of her car on a Tehran street near where Iranians were massing in protest of what was seen as the farcical re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Islamic Republic was experiencing its worst unrest since the 1979 revolution. The state made it illegal to join the demonstrations and barred most foreign media, which meant the burden of bearing witness was largely left to the citizens who waded in, cell phones in hand.
It was around 6:30 p.m. when Agha-Soltan was struck in the chest by a single bullet, said to originate from a pro-government sniper, though no one was ever charged. Men struggled to save her as others focused their cameras on the unfolding tragedy. One frame from the footage freezes her final gaze as streaks of deep red formed a web on her face. The image, among the earliest and easily the most significant to ever go viral, commanded the world’s attention. Within hours, footage uploaded anonymously to YouTube had been viewed by the President of the United States—proof that our new digital age could not only connect people; it could pry open even the staunchest of regimes.
80. The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death, 1855
While little is remembered of the Crimean War—that nearly three-year conflict that pitted England, France, Turkey and Sardinia-Piedmont against Russia—coverage of it radically changed the way we view war. Until then, the general public learned of battles through heroic paintings and illustrations. But after the British photographer Roger Fenton landed in 1855 on that far-off peninsula on the Black Sea, he sent back revelatory views of the conflict that firmly established the tradition of war photography. Those 360 photos of camp life and men manning mortar batteries may lack the visceral brutality we have since become accustomed to, yet Fenton’s work showed that this new artistic medium could rival the fine arts. 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.”
That haunting image, which for many evokes the poem’s “Cannon to right of them,/ Cannon to left of them,/ Cannon in front of them” as the troops race “into the valley of Death,” also revealed to the general public the reality of the lifeless desolation left in the wake of senseless slaughter. Scholars long believed that this was Fenton’s only image of the valley. But a second version with fewer of the scattered projectiles turned up in 1981, fueling a fierce debate over which came first. That the more recently discovered picture is thought to be the first indicates that Fenton may have been one of the earliest to stage a news photograph.
(Photo credit: Roger Fenton).
81. The Steerage, 1907
As a leader of the Photo-Secession movement, Alfred Stieglitz searched for beauty through the craftsmanlike creation of photographs, held pioneering exhibitions of his contemporaries, published their works and sought to have the still nascent art form taken as seriously as painting. But as modernism seeped into the cultural ferment in the early 20th century, 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. There, the shawled and swathed were crammed together on the compact lower deck, the skewed geometry of the ship emphasizing their claustrophobic accommodations and visually segregating them from those on the upper deck. “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.” Despite its momentary impact, Stieglitz’s photo, with its clear, unapologetic take on life, lay unnoticed for four years. But when he published it on the cover of his magazine Camera Work, The Steerage presented a radical way of thinking about photography, not as a momentary mimic of painting but a wholly formed and unique type of art. Appearing at the time of a seismic revolution in the arts, with the emergence of such seminal figures as the composer Igor Stravinsky and the architect Walter Gropius, this, one of the first “modernist” pictures, helped photography to be seen on a par with these other innovative forms of art. None other than the painter Pablo Picasso admired The Steerage’s cubistic sense and wrote that both he and Stieglitz were “working in the same spirit.”
(Photo credit: Alfred Stieglitz).
82. Trolley To New Orleans, 1955
Uncomfortable truths tend to carry consequences for the teller. 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.” The book’s 83 images were taken as Frank crisscrossed the U.S. on several road trips in the mid-1950s, and 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. The picture, shot a few weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., was unplanned. Frank was shooting a street parade when he saw the trolley passing.
Spinning around, Frank raised his camera and shot just before the trolley disappeared from view. The picture was used on the cover of early editions of The Americans, fueling criticism that the work was anti-American. Of course Frank—who became a U.S. citizen in 1963, five years after The Americans was published—simply saw his adopted country as it was, not as it imagined itself to be. Half a century later, that candor has made The Americans a monument of documentary and street photography. Frank’s loose and subjective style liberated the form from the conventions of photojournalism established by life magazine, which he dismissed as “goddamned stories with a beginning and an end.”
(Photo credit: Robert Frank).
83. Behind The Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932
Speed and instinct were at the heart of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s brilliance as a photographer. And never did he combine the two better than on the day in 1932 when he 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.
Cartier-Bresson, shooting with a nimble 35-millimeter camera and no flash, saw these components all come together for a brief moment and clicked his shutter. Timing is everything, and no other photographer’s was better. The image would become the quintessential example of Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment,” his lyrical term for the ability to immortalize a fleeting scene on film. It was a fast, mobile, detail-obsessed style that would help chart the course for all of modern photography.
(Photo credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson).
84. Couple In Raccoon Coats, 1932
To many white Americans in the 1930s, black people were little more than domestics or sharecroppers. They were ignored, invisible, forgotten. But that was not what James VanDerZee saw when he gazed through his camera lens. Seeking to counter the degrading and widely disseminated caricatures of African Americans in popular culture, VanDerZee 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.
In his Guarantee Photo Studio and along the neighborhood’s streets, VanDerZee crafted portraits that were meticulously staged to celebrate the images his subjects wanted to project. And nowhere is this pride more evident than in his glowing picture of a handsome couple sporting raccoon coats beside a Cadillac roadster. The swish backdrop—props curated by VanDerZee—challenged popular perceptions about race, class and success and became an aspirational model for generations of African Americans yearning for a full piece of the American Dream.
(Photo credit: James Vanderzee).
85. Androgyny (6 Men + 6 Women), 1982
Photography is a perfect medium for recording the past. But until Nancy Burson’s Androgyny, it was useless for predicting the future. Two decades before the shape-shifting enabled by digital photography became ubiquitous, Burson worked with MIT scientists to develop technology that let her craft this composite image of the faces of six men and six women. The effect was revolutionary. Photographs could suddenly be used to project how someone would look, not just how they once did.
Burson’s composite work led her to develop pioneering software that could digitally age faces—the first time these images could be based on more than guesses. The Federal Bureau of Investigation acquired Burson’s software to create present-day images of people who had gone missing years earlier, and it has been used to locate numerous missing persons.
(Photo credit: Nancy Burson).
86. Untitled (Cowboy), 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.
That Prince didn’t take the original picture meant little to collectors. In 2005 Untitled (Cowboy) sold for $1.2 million at auction, then the highest publicly recorded price for the sale of a contemporary photograph. Others were less enthusiastic. Prince was sued by a photographer for using copyrighted images, but the courts ruled largely in Prince’s favor. That wasn’t his only victory. Prince’s rephotography helped to create a new art form—photography of photography—that foreshadowed the era of digital sharing and upended our understanding of a photo’s authenticity and ownership.
(Photo credit: Richard Prince).
87. Bricklayer, 1928
There is a certain formulaic approach to August Sander’s photography. But that was his aim. By presenting doctors, farmers, chefs and beggars all with the same stark directness, the German-born Sander made everyone the everyman. He set out to show that there is much to learn from all layers of society, noting, “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. For while the laborer’s work entails toil and sweat, he maintains a proud bearing.
The classical framing, with the lines of the bricks evoking the lines of the bricklayer’s vest, reinforces the dignity of the subject. Which was no small thing for a nation still reeling from the humiliation of World War I. Sander gathered Bricklayer and his other portraits in the monumental People of the 20th Century, the first body of work to document a culture through photography. Sander’s photographs celebrate the importance of the individual, elevating portraiture of ordinary people to art.
(Photo credit: August Sander).
88. The Hague, 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. There, at 2 a.m., Salomon candidly shot exhausted Foreign Ministers after a long day of negotiations. The picture created a sensation when it was published in the London Graphic. For the first time, the public could look through the doors of power and see world leaders with their guard down. Salomon, who died in Auschwitz 12 years later, had created backstage political photojournalism.
(Photo credit: Erich Salomon).
89. Fort Peck Dam, 1936
It was to quickly become the most influential news and photography magazine of its time, and LIFE’s November 1936 debut issue proudly announced that it would cover stories of enormous scope and complexity in a uniquely visual way. What better person, thought publisher Henry Luce, than his Fortune magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White to shoot LIFE’s premier story, on the construction of Montana’s Fort Peck Dam? There, on the cover with the castle-like structure and a photo essay inside, 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.” Bourke-White’s cover became the defining image of the magazine that helped define a style of photojournalism and set the tone for the other great LIFE photographers who followed her. As her colleague Carl Mydans, the great war photojournalist, put it, Bourke-White’s influence “was incalculable.”
(Photo credit: Margaret Bourke-White).
90. Untitled Film Still 21, 1978
Since she burst onto the art scene in the late 1970s, 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.
Yet the images are entirely Sherman’s creations, placing the viewer in the role of unwitting voyeur. Rather than capture real life in the click of a shutter, Sherman uses photography as an artistic tool to deceive and captivate. Her images have become some of the most valuable photographs ever produced. By manipulating viewers and recasting her own identity, Sherman carved out a new place for photography in fine art. And she showed that even photography allows people to be something they’re not.
(Photo credit: Cindy Sherman).
91. Brian Ridley And Lyle Heeter, 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. At work, gay employees were largely closeted. 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.
Yet the men are posed in an otherwise unremarkable living room, a juxtaposition that adds a layer of normality to a relationship far outside the bounds of what most Americans then considered acceptable. The picture and the series it was part of blew open the doors for a range of photographers and artists to frankly examine gay life and sexuality. Nearly a decade later, Mapplethorpe’s work continued to provoke. An exhibit featuring his pictures of gay S&M scenes led to a Cincinnati art museum and its director’s getting charged with obscenity. (Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989, one year before the trial began.) The museum and its director were eventually acquitted, bolstering Mapplethorpe’s legacy as a bold pioneer whose work deserved public display.
(Photo credit: Robert Mapplethorpe).
92. Demi Moore, 1991
The Hollywood star Demi Moore was seven months pregnant with her second child when she graced the cover of Vanity Fair in nothing but her birthday suit. 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. The magazine’s editor, Tina Brown, deemed Moore’s act a brave declaration, “a new young movie star willing to say, ‘I look beautiful pregnant,’ and not ashamed of it.”
The photo was the first mass-media picture to sexualize pregnancy, and many found it too shocking for the newsstand. Some grocery chains refused to stock the issue, while others covered it up like pornography. It was not, of course. But it was a provocative magazine cover, and it did what only the best covers can: change the culture. Once pregnancy was a relatively private affair, even for public figures. After Leibovitz’s picture, celebrity births, naked maternity shots and paparazzi snaps of baby bumps have become industries unto themselves.
(Photo credit: Annie Leibovitz).
93. Cathedral Rock, Yosemite, 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. At the journey’s end, Watkins had 130 negatives that offered the first printed images of Yosemite’s towering masses, glacial geology and jaw-dropping expanse. The images, including Watkins’ intimate view of Cathedral Rock, floored the growing nation’s power brokers. John Conness, a U.S. Senator from California, owned a set of the prints and became an evangelist for the work. On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Yosemite Grant Act, laying the foundation for the National Park System, which now protects some 84 million acres of land.
(Photo credit: Carleton Watkins).
94. Allende’s Last Stand, 1973
Salvador Allende was the first democratically elected Marxist head of state, and he assumed the presidency of Chile in 1970 with a mandate to transform the country. He nationalized U.S.-owned companies, turned estates into cooperatives, froze prices, increased wages and churned out money to bankroll the changes. But the economy faltered, inflation soared, and unrest grew. 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.
As Santiago’s presidential palace was bombarded, Luis Orlando Lagos, Allende’s official photographer, captured one of his final moments. Not long after, Allende committed suicide—though for decades many believed he was killed by the advancing troops. Fearing for his own life, Lagos fled. During Pinochet’s nearly 17-year rule, 40,000 Chileans were interrogated, tortured, killed or disappeared. Lagos’ picture appeared anonymously. It won the 1973 World Press Photo of the Year award and became revered as an image that immortalized Allende as a hero who gladly chose death over dishonor. It was only after Lagos’ death in 2007 that people learned the photographer’s identity.
(Photo credit: Luis Orlando Lagos).
95. Molotov Man, 1979
Susan Meiselas traveled to Nicaragua in the late 1970s 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. For six weeks she roamed the country, documenting a nation of grinding poverty, stunning natural beauty and wrenching inequality. Meiselas’ work was sympathetic to the Sandinista cause, and she gained the trust of the revolutionaries as they slowly prevailed in the fight. On the day before President Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled, Meiselas photographed Pablo de Jesus “Bareta” Araúz lobbing a Molotov cocktail at one of the last national guard fortresses.
After the Sandinistas took power, the image became the defining symbol of the revolution—a reviled dictator toppled by a ragtag army of denim-clad fighters wielding makeshift weapons. Eagerly disseminated by the Sandinistas, Molotov Man soon became ubiquitous throughout Nicaragua, appearing on matchbooks, T-shirts, billboards and brochures. It later became a flash point in the debate over artistic appropriation when the painter Joy Garnett used it as the basis of her 2003 painting Molotov.
(Photo credit: Susan Meiselas).
96. North Korea, 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. He started making frequent trips to the country, which had been largely off-limits to foreign journalists and virtually hidden from public view for nearly 60 years. 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. In early 2013, North Korea made a 3G connection available to foreigners, and suddenly Guttenfelder had the ability to share those glimpses with the world in real time. 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.” By using the emerging technology of the sharing age, Guttenfelder opened one of the world’s most closed societies. He also inspired other visiting foreigners to do the same, creating a portrait of the monotony of everyday life not visible in mainstream coverage of the totalitarian state and bringing the outside world its clearest picture yet of North Korea.
(Photo credit: David Guttenfelder).
97. The Critic, 1943
Arthur Fellig had a sharp eye for the unfairness of life. 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. Often these were film-noirish images of crime, tragedy and the denizens of nocturnal New York. In 1943, Weegee turned his Speed Graphic camera’s blinding flash on the social and economic inequalities that lingered after the Great Depression. Not averse to orchestrating a shot, he dispatched his assistant, Louie Liotta, to a Bowery dive in search of an inebriated woman. He found a willing subject and took her to the Metropolitan Opera House for its Diamond Jubilee celebration.
Then Liotta set her up near the entrance while Weegee watched for the arrival of Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies, two wealthy women who regularly graced society columns. When the tiara- and fur-bedecked socialites arrived for the opera, Weegee gave Liotta the signal to spring the drunk woman. “It was like an explosion,” Liotta recalled. “I thought I went blind from the three or four flash exposures.” With that flash, Weegee captured the stark juxtaposition of fabulous wealth and dire poverty, in a gotcha style that anticipated the commercial appeal of paparazzi decades later. The photo appeared in life under the headline “The Fashionable People,” and the piece let readers know how the women’s “entry was viewed with distaste by a spectator.” That The Critic was later revealed to have been staged did little to dampen its influence.
(Photo credit: Weegee).
98. 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. And so 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. It was a propaganda coup. The image of that swim, one of the few widely circulated photos of the leader, did just what Mao hoped.
Back in Beijing, Mao launched his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, rallying the masses to purge his rivals. His grip on power was tighter than ever. Mao enlisted the nation’s young people and implored these rabid Red Guards to “dare to be violent.” Insanity quickly descended on the land of 750 million, as troops clutching the Chairman’s Little Red Book smashed relics and temples and punished perceived traitors. When the Cultural Revolution finally petered out a decade later, more than a million people had perished.
99. Immersions (Piss Christ), 1987
Andres Serrano said he did not intend his 1987 photograph of a crucifix submerged in his own urine to offend; indeed, when it was first displayed in galleries, no one protested. But 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.
The uproar turned Piss Christ into one of the key fronts in the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s, alongside the work of Serrano’s fellow NEA recipient Robert Mapplethorpe, and divided a nation over the question of whether the government had the right to censor art. The battle over Piss Christ has left a dual legacy. The campaign to place the picture outside the boundaries of acceptable art contributed to its fame, inspiring other artists to push limits even further. But those provocateurs are less likely to do so with help from the government: the decency-standards law passed because of Piss Christ was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1998.
(Photo credit: Andres Serrano).
100. Oscars Selfie, 2014
It was a moment made for the celebrity-saturated Internet age. 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. As Bradley Cooper held the phone, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Spacey, among others, pressed their faces together and mugged. But it was what DeGeneres did next that turned a bit of Hollywood levity into a transformational image. After Cooper took the picture, DeGeneres immediately posted it on Twitter, where it was retweeted over 3 million times, more than any other photo in history.
It was also an enviable advertising coup for Samsung. DeGeneres used the company’s phone for the stunt, and the brand was prominently displayed in the program’s televised “selfie moment.” Samsung has been coy about the extent of the planning, but its public relations firm acknowledged its value could be as high as $1 billion. That would never have been the case were it not for the incredible speed and ease with which images can now spread around the world.
(Photo credit: Bradley Cooper).