Photography is one of the most genuine of art forms, as well as one of the most poignant. Most people will agree that if faced with a burning house, it would be their photographs that they would rescue first. Whether they be physical or digital, such images can capture a moment that can simply be forgotten, cementing itself into your life forever. We preserve the important events in our lives for a reason, and not just to look back on fondly. From the birth of a child, birthdays, marriages, vacations, and even funerals, recording such events help build together a timeline of memories, filled with those people and places that we’d never want to forget. That’s right, not only a narrative for our lives, photography has been at the center of the world since the very beginning, capturing the darkest of moments in our earth’s history, as well as the most beautiful. So, to celebrate, here are 15 of the most powerful images in history and their stories.
15. Phyllis Siegel And Connie Kopelov
With same gendered marriage declared legal on June 26th, 2015, the LGBT community rejoiced as they were finally given the same rights as heterosexual couples with regards to marriage. However, in 2011 the USA was a long way away from doing the right thing, with only a few selected states deeming same gendered marriage legal. As one of the first to do so in New York City, Connie Kopelov and Phyllis Siegel got hitched after 23 years together. Kopelov, then 85 and Siegel, 76, were the first couple through the door, with the state law going into effect later that day. This is just the best story ever and we can’t help but smile! Speaking of the day itself, Siegel later claimed, “I lost my breath, it was just the most exciting loss of breath I have ever had. I just was so happy.” Awwww. Okay we might be tearing.
14. Black Power
One of the most famous images in history, the 1968 Olympics black power salute is still just as poignant today. Conducted by African-American athletes Tommie Smith, and John Carlos, the political demonstration was a protest to represent black poverty. Raising a black gloved fist, the athletes were also without shoes, donning human rights badges on their sports jackets. Later declaring that the gesture was not a “Black Power” salute as originally thought, Smith explained that it was in fact a “human rights salute”, expressing his anger at the treatment of black Americans during the civil rights movement, as well as throughout history. After the incident, Smith claimed, “if I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”
13. Elizabeth Eckford
One of the Little Rock Nine, Elizabeth Eckford shot to fame when she was snapped on her way to school in 1957. As one of the first to integrate their students, the school came under severe pressure from the outside community, demanding that black and white students should be separated. With the photograph depicting a mob-like crowd, intent on making their views known, Eckford and her fellow classmates were eventually prevented from entering the school. Plus, as well as facing an angry mob, the nine students were also faced with the National Guard, who forcefully stepped in their way, under orders from the Arkansas Governor. Threatening to lynch her, the students fled, resulting in the students studying at home for the next two weeks before trying again. Recalling the traumatic experience, Eckford later said, “I stood looking at the school— it looked so big! Just then the guards let some white students through. The crowd was quiet. I guess they were waiting to see what was going to happen. When I was able to steady my knees, I walked up to the guard who had let the white students in. He didn’t move. When I tried to squeeze past him, he raised his bayonet and then the other guards moved in and they raised their bayonets. They glared at me with a mean look and I was very frightened and didn’t know what to do. I turned around and the crowd came toward me. They moved closer and closer. Somebody started yelling, ‘Drag her over to this tree! Let’s take care of that ni**er.'”
12. Greasley Vs Himmler
British soldier Joseph Horace Greasley was captured in the Second World War and later sent to a prisoner of war camp. Mostly known for the number of times he escaped, it was suggested that he had fled the camp well over 200 times (wow he must have been really good at escaping). But if he escaped that many time that means he has been caught that many time too. However, with the story being not your average great escape, Greasley was in fact returning to the camp to continue a love affair with one of the captives. Also known for the photograph in which he is pictured with Nazi chief of police, Heinrich Himmler, the photo shows the shirtless Greasley confronting the Nazi leader. But, with the photograph sometimes disputed, it has been suggested that the man in question was in fact a Soviet soldier, and not Greasley, who had repeatedly insisted his appearance.
11. Dehydrated Koala Bear
When a deadly bush fire, which was deliberately lit by criminals, engulfed Northern Victoria, Australia, a mobile phone captured one of the most heart warming pictures of the last few years. Snapping firefighter David Tree, attending to a burnt Koala Bear, the picture shows Tree holding a bottle of water for the distressed animal. Becoming a symbol of hope, the picture was shown all over the world, with the Koala’s paw delicately in hand with Tree’s. Taken to a Wildlife Centre, the Koala, now named Sam, was treated for second-degree burns, as well as damage to her teeth. Featured in media outlets all over the world, Sam became somewhat of a star. However, sadly euthanized that same year due to an inoperable disease, Sam’s remains were moved to the Melbourne Museum, preserved as a memory to all those lost in the bush fire. this picture just melts our hearts and we can’t even handle it.
10. The Falling Man
Definitely one of the most emotional and moving photographs of the last few years, the falling man was taken during the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001. The picture, which captures the final moments of a man falling to his death, was taken from outside the North Tower of the World Trade Center, before its eventual collapse. The man, whose identity still remains uncertain, was one of the many people trapped on the upper floors of the building, who decided to jump rather than be engulfed by the flames. With it said that at least 200 people jumped to their deaths, officials have never been able to recover the bodies, nor able to identify those who fell. Extremely disturbing, the photograph is a staunch reminder of the world in which we live in today. Just like this image, there is also an image of two people holding hands n their way down from the towers. This really chokes us up and we can’t look at it too long without shedding a tear.
9. Stonewall Riots
The Stonewall riots, also referred to as the Stonewall rebellion, was a series of violent demonstrations that took place during the summer of 1969. Fed up of being victimized, beaten, and knocked down by majorities of the general public, as well as the police force, the gay community hit back, embarking on a riot that shook the grounds of Manhattan, New York City (it seems like New York City is the first place to take part in change, maybe that’s why it’s the greatest place ever). Kicking off after a series of police raids on the notorious gay hot spot, the Stonewall Inn, the riot is now considered to be the start of the gay liberation movement, eventually making its way all over the world. Escorting gay men, lesbian women, transvestites and trans into police wagons, a series of photographs were shot depicting the riot that later broke out, going down in history as the start of something quite special.
Taken by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission of 1968, The Earthrise photograph is not as well-known as its more famous sibling, The Blue Marble. Declared, “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken,” the photo shows a shadowed earth, hovering in the distance from the wasteland of the moon’s rocky surface. Beautiful to say the least, the photo is definitely up there with regards to best ever Earth shots. Issued on a U.S postal service stamp one year later, the image was used to commemorate the Apollo 8 mission, as well as its successful flight around the moon. Featuring a colored version of the Earthrise photograph, the stamp also inscribed the words, “in the beginning God….”, a recall of the Apollo 8 Genesis reading. It’s honestly one of those images that are so beautiful even without its story. It makes you wonder just how some of these images were even captured, and we are happy they were!
7. Women’s Suffrage
With women’s suffrage in full swing during the beginning of the twentieth century, Emily Wilding Davison topped the headlines for all the wrong reasons or was she? A strong supporter of women’s rights, Davison was known for her extreme tactics, resulting in a whopping nine arrests. Force-fed 49 times while in prison, Davison often used hunger strikes as a form of protest. However, it was her most famous protest that ultimately cost her her life, when she was struck down by King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. Ducking under the railings, Davison waited while a number of horses ran past, choosing to run out in the direct path of the King’s horse. Thrown through the air, Davison landed unconscious, succumbing to her injuries four days later. With it unclear whether she intended to die or not, Davison was found to have purchased a return rail ticket, as well as a ticket to a suffragette dance later that day. However, with her death often attributed to that of martyrdom, it remains unclear to what exactly Davison had originally planned.
6. Heart Transplant
Taken in 1987, this iconic photo portrays Dr. Zbigniew Religa, who was left to keep watch on the vital signs of a patient after a mammoth 23 hour heart surgery. A pioneer of all things heart related, the surgery was originally said to be impossible, with the transplant the first of its kind in his native Poland. And, despite staff shortages, low rent machinery, and the fact that heart transplants were still extremely new, Dr. Religa managed to pull off one of the biggest medical triumphs of all time. Exhausted, the picture perfectly displays the tireless efforts that a surgeon must go through on a daily basis, with one of his colleagues seemingly succumbing to sleep in the lower right-hand corner. Recovering, as well as outliving his savior and the man who gave him a second heart, Tadeusz Zitkevits is still alive today, with Dr. Religa sadly passing in 2007 aged 70.
5. A Blend Of Culture
When a Mursi woman was pictured reading the highly popular fashion and beauty magazine, Vogue, the photograph perfectly captured a mix of two very different cultures. The Mursi, sometimes known as the Murzu tribe, is one of the largest tribes in Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley. Estimated to consist of over 10,000, people, the Mursi are said to move twice a year, between winter and summer. The Mursi also have their own language, aptly called Mursi, which is classified as one of the Surmic languages. Famed for being one of the most aggressive tribes in Africa, it is their stick fighting ceremony, the dona, that has intrigued those the most. However, with the Mursi women known for their extensive facial decoration, the ladies of the tribe are also famed for the giant lip plate, which is used as a sign of beauty. Detailing the juxtaposition on what is classed as beauty in different cultures, the photograph is a clear winner with regards to the differences between our own standards of aesthetics.
4. KKK Child
You don’t even need to know what is going on in this picture to feel a great wave of emotions. Holding a rally in the state of Georgia in 1992, the Klu Klux Klan were on a mission to revive the already flagging white supremacist group. Hoping to sign up some new members, the group were sadly mistaken, when around 100 observers came to protest against the hateful campaign. Needing help, the 66 KKK members were encircled by security, who by law were unfortunately enlisted to protect them. Photographing one of the member’s children, who was donned in the notorious KKK white uniform and pointed hat, the picture sees the boy approach one of the black state troopers. Seeing his reflection in the shield, the boy is mesmerized, producing the iconic presumption that, no one is born a racist, but made into one. Ugh, talk about instant chills after hearing this!
3. Joint Forces
Sometimes it takes the joining of two minorities to fight the power, no matter how different you are from one another. That’s right, striking up an alliance during the bleak and grimy days of the Thatcher administration in the UK, the LGBT community and the British miners joined forces in their hatred for a government who was trying to destroy them. Single handily forcing a number of miners from making a living by closing down the mine pits, the north of England and Wales were strongly affected, with many unable to put food on their own table. Seemingly having a hatred for the LGBT community also, the Thatcher administration installed a new law, in which it prevented the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools. Therefore, students were not educated on the LGBT community, nor the families that existed or could exist. Coming together, the slogan, “lesbian and gays support the miners,” stuck, with a number of fundraisers and gatherings put together for the unlikely coupling. Made into a movie in 2014, the film depicts the organization’s story and was critically acclaimed.
2. Tank Man
Probably one of the most famous pictures in the world, Tank Man, also known as the unknown protester, was the nickname of an unidentified man who stood in front of a line of tanks in 1989. These people are just so brave! This picture is as chilling as the falling man mentioned above. Protesting the Chinese military, Tank Man became a symbol of hope, during a turbulent time in the country. As the tanks tried to get around him, Tank Man repeatedly stood in their way, obstructing every attempt to move around him. And now, 25 years after the original photograph was taken, there is no clue to who the man was, nor any information on what he was doing and his reasons for doing so. Though to have been executed a mere two weeks later, the claims have often been disputed, with various government officials stating that he simply just vanished.
Now one of the most famous yet emotional photographs of all time, Reza Gul has now become a symbol of change, desperate to change the plight of women in Afghanistan. Highlighting the abuse that some women suffer in the middle eastern country, the disturbing picture displays Gul with her nose removed, cut off by her violent husband. Once residing in the Taliban controlled district of the northern Faryab province in Afghanistan, Gul was forced into marriage, undergoing six years of severe domestic violence. Speaking of the daily abuse, Gul stated, “he would beat me. He wouldn’t feed me or give me flour to bake bread, he would beat me on the head, shackle my feet and lock me up in the stable with a donkey.” With her husband still at large, and it unlikely he will suffer any consequences for his actions, Gul lives in hope that one day the lives of Afghani women will change for the better.
Sources: www.cnn.com, www.buzzfeed.com, www.time.com, www.ranker.com