21 Powerful Photos That (Literally) Changed The World.
With the help of curators, historians, photo editors and other experts, TIME magazine produced a list of the 100 most influential photographs in history. Now, photographs belong to recent history—sources say that the first photograph was taken in 1826—but we imagine that it was still a daunting task to sort through thousands of images as each one carries its share of layered stories.
The only criterion was that the photo must depict "turning points in our human experience." The result? A varied collection. "Some images are on our list because they were the first of their kind, others because they shaped the way we think," the project page reads. "And some made the cut because they directly changed the way we live."
The greatest significance of photography—and this answer may differ from person to person—is not the capturing of a moment, even though that is extraordinary enough, but as photojournalist James Nachtwey stated, their ability to "create an atmosphere where change is possible."
Here are 21 photographs from the list, each accompanied by a short description.
The Burning Monk, Malcolm Browne, 1963
The self-immolation of Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc in Saigon spurred, and continues to spur, waves of emotion in people from all over the world. It was coordinated in response to the Diem regime's discriminatory Buddhist laws, including the banning of the Buddhist flag.
The Terror of War, Nick Ut, 1972
Nick Ut's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo shows a heartbreaking scene of children fleeing a Napalm bombing in Trang Bang as a result of the Vietnam War. Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the 9-year-old girl pictured fully nude, was later known as the "Napalm girl." Despite being severely burned on her back, she survived the attack and has since undergone several surgical procedures.
Starving Child and Vulture, Kevin Carter, 1993
Also called "Struggling Girl" and "The Vulture and the Little Girl," this photo is one of the most controversial photos ever taken. While the little girl was on her way to a United Nations feeding center in Sudan, the vulture eyed her for its next meal.
When readers saw the photo in the New York Times, they wrote in asking about the girl's fate. They criticized the photographer, Kevin Carter, for exploiting her for the photo instead of helping her. It was later revealed that he waited about 20 minutes to get the perfect shot before finally chasing the bird away.
Carter took his own life at the age of 33. The photo went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.
Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, 1932
This iconic 20th-century photograph of 11 ironworkers enjoying lunch on a steel beam some 850 feet in the air is one of the biggest mysteries. No one has confirmed the photographer, and only a few of the men have been identified. We do know, however, that the photo was taken at the RCA building, or modern-day GE building, in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center.
Tank Man, Jeff Widener, 1989
The unidentified man in the photo is known only as "tank man." He was in the middle of shopping—take a look at the bags in his hands—but decided to try and stop these tanks from moving forward in Tiananmen Square. The drivers tried to make their way around him but he continued to block them. No fires were made, and the man was eventually removed from the scene.
The incident followed a crackdown which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of protestors. Photographer Jeff Widener notes that this photo shows that "[Tank man has] just had enough" ... "his statement is more important than his own life.
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