Since the invention of photography in the early to mid 19th century, countless photos have been taken by professionals and ordinary people alike. But every so often there is an image which speaks to the world and moves people. Some of these have the power to bring major changes in politics or help cause a cultural revolution. The saying that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ rings very true.
From the photograph that started it all to provocative images of injustice, here are 10 photos that changed the world.
‘View from the Window at Le Gras’ by Nicéphore Niépce
The first entry on our list is naturally the oldest surviving photograph ever taken. It may not look like much to a modern viewer, but this crude photo showcases the beginnings of an invention that would revolutionise the world. Taken in 1827 by the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce, it shows parts of the buildings and surrounding countryside of his estate.
‘Little Spinner in Mollahan Cotton Mills’ by Lewis Wickes Hine
During the early 20th century the National Child Labor Committee was trying to raise awareness about the working conditions of children in American industry. The images taken by Lewis W. Hine were important in exposing the high danger environments these children were working in, leading to more in depth investigations into the practice.
‘Migrant Mother’ by Dorothea Lange
This moving photograph was taken by American photographer Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression in 1936. The woman depicted in the now iconic image was Florence Owens Thompson, who moved from present day Oklahoma to California. Of Cherokee decent, she worked on farms picking crops to support herself and her six children. Following the publication of the photo, the federal government allocated 9,100kg of food towards people who were in the pea-picker camp where she stayed.
‘Hindenburg Disaster’ by Sam Shere
The passenger airship was traveling from Frankfurt, Germany to New Jersey, USA when it caught fire right before landing. The disaster doomed the zeppelin industry, with Sam Shere’s photo becoming closely associated with the airships.
‘Mushroom Cloud Over Nagasaki’ by Lieutenant Charles Levy
Taken following the atomic bomb explosion over the Japanese city of Nagasaki, it became one of the most recognisable images of the 20th century. It is a stark reminder of the power these weapons of mass destruction hold.
‘Guerrillero Heroico’ by Alberto Korda
Arguably this is one of the most reproduced images of the 20th century, with countless versions and variations found on the Internet. It was taken on 5 March 1960 in Havana, Cuba during a memorial service. The photograph helped cement Che Guevara as a cultural icon.
‘Elizabeth Eckford’ by Ira Wilmer Counts Jr.
In 1957 Little Rock Central High School was forced to desegregate, allowing Elizabeth Eckford to attend class together with her white peers. Not everybody was happy about that, with some students shouting at her: ‘Two, four, six, eight! We don’t want to integrate!’. The image has become a symbol of the difficult road towards ending segregation in the United States.
‘General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon’ by Eddie Adams
Eddi Adam’s photograph managed to capture the attention of a whole generation around the world. It played a crucial role in galvanising public disapproval of the Vietnam War and the US role in it. Taken in 1968, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.
‘Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’ by Neil Armstrong
In 1969 humanity achieved something that past generations could only dream of – landing a man on the moon. This photograph of Buzz Aldrin is one of the most iconic images of the Apollo 11 mission, becoming a fixture in the public mind for decades to come.
‘The Hooded Man’ by Sgt. Ivan Frederick
This image became a powerful symbol of US human rights violations during the Iraq War. Ali Shallal al-Qaisi was a prisoner who was being interrogated by the CIA at Abu Ghraib prison, with torture being a regular occurrence. The photograph was widely publicised, drawing heavy criticism towards the United States.