15 Most Famous Photographs of All Time

Sometimes images can speak more than a thousand words can do. Photographs not only capture the visual of the moment but also capture the story behind the moment beautifully forever. There have been photos that have transcended the realm of mundane snapshots throughout the history of photography, becoming iconic symbols that characterize eras, movements, and the human experience itself. In this list, we describe the 15 Most famous photographs of all time and the back story behind them.

1.) Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal (1945, Mount Suribachi, Japan)

I am pretty sure most of you have seen this picture of 6 soldiers raising the US flag. This photograph, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” is an iconic image depicts 6 United States Marines raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Taken by Joe Rosenthal, the photo quickly gained widespread recognition and won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography that same year. It became a symbol of the bravery and sacrifice of American servicemen during World War II.

However, three of the Marines in the photograph tragically lost their lives in the battle, while the other three served in the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima.

2.) The Vulture and the Little Girl, by Kevin Carpenter (1993, Ayod, Sudan)

This picture by Kevin Carpenter is arguably one of the most controversial pictures in the history of photojournalism.  The image portrays a frail and famine-stricken child, initially mistaken as a girl, who collapsed on the ground while a hooded vulture lurks nearby. The child was walking towards a United Nations feeding center in Ayod, Sudan during the famine crisis.

The photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994. Tragically, four months after receiving the award, Carter took his own life. The image has sparked debate and criticism, accused by some of exploiting poverty for shock value. The St. Petersburg Times in Florida wrote: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene”.

3.) Phan Thi Kim Phuc/ Napalm Girl, by Nick Ut  (1972, Tráng Báng, Vietnam)

One of the most horrific moments in our world history has been the Vietnam War. The war was inhumane because of the use of chemical weapons like the Napalm Bomb. This picture taken by Nick Ut has become one of the most famous pictures to come out of this war. In the picture, a small kid named Phan Phuc who suffers from severe burns due to a Napalm attack is crying and running naked with other kids who are terrified as well. While soldiers from the South Vietnamese army follow helplessly behind.

4.) Afghan Girl, by Steve McCurry (1984, Peshawar, Pakistan)

This photo was taken at the height of the Cold War between the US and Russia, while the Soviet-Afghan war was going on. The image features Sharbat Gula, an Afghan refugee in Pakistan. This picture gained widespread recognition when it appeared on the cover of National Geographic in June 1985.

Given the backdrop of the Cold War, the portrait was described as “The First World’s Third World Mona Lisa”, highlighting its significance and impact.

5.) V-J Day in Times Square, by Alfred Eisenstaedt (1945, New York City, USA)

This image captures a U.S. Navy sailor passionately kissing a dental assistant, who was a total stranger to him, in New York City’s Times Square. The photograph was published in Life magazine a week later as part of a feature on Victory over Japan Day celebrations across the United States. Eisenstaedt captured the spontaneous moment as the nation eagerly awaited the announcement of Japan’s surrender. The photograph became famous for its depiction of the jubilant atmosphere at the end of World War II.

6.) Tank Man, by Jeff Widener (1989, Tiananmen Square, China) 

This image called the Tank Man, gained worldwide recognition for the protestor’s act of defiance during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing on June 5, 1989. Standing alone in front of a column of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square, the Tank Man repeatedly moved to obstruct their path. The image and the events surrounding it are heavily censored within China. The picture symbolizes what it means to resist and protest against great powers.

7.) Guerrillero Heroico, by Alberto Korda (1960, Havana, Cuba)

Guerrillero Heroico is an iconic photograph of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. This image was captured during a memorial service in Havana, Cuba, and became a symbol of Guevara’s unwavering determination and stoic character. As Guevara’s actions and eventual execution unfolded, the photograph solidified his status as a cultural icon. The image has been widely reproduced and incorporated into various forms of art, making it one of the most recognizable photographs in the world.

8.) Earthrise, by William Anders (1968, Lunar Orbit)

This beautiful and iconic picture of the Earth was taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission, which was the first crewed voyage to orbit the moon. Fifty years to the day after taking the photo, William Anders observed, “We set out to explore the moon and instead discovered the Earth.”

9.) The Falling Man, by Richard Drew (2001, New York City, USA)

This disturbing image has also been criticized a lot, as it shows a man falling from the World Trade Center during the infamous 9/11 attacks. The unidentified man in the image was trapped on the upper floors of the North Tower, and it is unclear whether he fell while searching for safety or jumped to escape the fire and smoke. The photograph was widely criticized after publication in international media on September 12, 2001, with readers labeling the image as “disturbing, cold-blooded, ghoulish, and sadistic”.

10.) The Roaring Lion, by Yousuf Karsh (1941, Ottawa, Canada)

This black and white photographic portrait portrays a 67-year-old Winston Churchill as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Probably the most important figure during World War 2, Churchill had quite a serious demeanor and in this photo is encapsulated beautifully,

11.) Marilyn Monroe, by Sam Shaw (1951, New York, USA)

This image has become iconic and made Marylin Monroe’s legacy even more special. This famous ventilation grate photograph made Marilyn Monroe even more famous. The image has been reprinted millions of times, making it one of the world’s most well-known.

12.) Steve Jobs, by Albert Watson (2006, California, USA)

Steve Jobs was the most important pioneer of the 21st century. His genius led to a technological revolution. He founded arguably the most important tech company Apple which gave us Personal Computers, and smartphones. This picture by Albert Watson captures the simplicity and the power the man had and thus has become the most famous image of Jobs.

13.) Atomic Cloud Rises Over Nagasaki, by Lieutenant Charles Levy (1945, Nagasaki, Japan)

One of the most merciless attacks in all of human history of war has been the two nuclear bomb detonations by the US on the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This photo shows a 45,000-foot-tall mushroom cloud erupting over Nagasaki after the detonation of the nuclear bomb which killed around 80,000. Twenty-six-year-old Lieutenant Charles Levy captured the photograph of this devastation with his personal camera while aboard the B-29 aircraft The Great Artiste, which was an observation plane to record the power of the blast.

14.) The Mahatma, By Margaret Bourke  (1946, India)

Gandhiji is probably the most iconic figure not just in Indian history but in the entire World history. This iconic picture of Gandhi shows him with his spinning wheel or ‘charkha’. The reason this photo is so iconic is because it shows Gandhi’s philosophy symbolically, he used the charkha as a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency.

15.) The First Photo Of The Black Hole, by Event Horizon Telescope (2019)

In 2019, the world for the first time saw what a black hole actually looks like. The picture shows  Sagittarius* which is the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which is a collaboration of telescopes on which more than 200 researchers worked.

With that we come to the end of the article, what all these photos have in common is that they capture some of the most important events in our modern history. Some are moments we can be collectively proud of while others just show the terrible actions we have done in the past.

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