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Pictures that Changed the World

by ater

berlin wall

BERLIN—A young man bridges the wall between East and West Berlin, 1989. © Raymond Depardon

Slate magazine has a collection of Magnum photos which changed the world. Mostly doused in black and white gradients, these pictures feature significant historical incidents. Some of them, like the picture of the girl who grew up in a concentration camp are remarkably powerful reflections on our actions.

Here are some of my favorites:

Spanish Civil War

CERRO MURIANO, Spain—Federico Borrell Garcia, Spanish loyalist militiaman, collapses into death, 1936.

This is a classic photo and I like it because the Spanish soldier looks totally peaceful and dare I say it, graceful even when falling to his death. Some have said it was faked but I don’t care. It’s beautiful.

Teresa David Seymour

POLAND—Teresa, a child in a residence for disturbed children, grew up in a concentration camp. She has drawn a picture of “home” on the blackboard, 1948. © David Seymour

This picture is just mind blowing. The kid is out of whack and severely traumatized by growing up in a concentration camp. Chalk lines that go nowhere and stay nowhere.

racism elliott erwitt

NORTH CAROLINA—A black man drinks at segregated water fountains, 1950. © Elliott Erwitt

White’s man burden. The difference is stark and very direct. It just hits you right in the face. White Americans even believed that they deserved better drinking fountains. Absurd.

sharpeville massacre

SHARPEVILLE, South Africa—Police open fire on a crowd, killing more than 70 and injuring hundreds of others during what came to be known as the Sharpeville massacre, 1960. © Ian Berry

I love the shot of the clouds in the picture. Ominous. Apocalyptic. Bearing weight upon everyone beneath it.

Martin Luther King

WASHINGTON, D.C.—At the climax of his “I Have A Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. raises his arm on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and calls out for deliverance with the electrifying words of an old Negro spiritual hymn, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”, 1963. © Bob Adelman

Walking in the shadow of the valley of death, King does his thing and the audio for this speech is electrifying.

Jan Rose Kasmir

ARLINGTON, Va.—Jan Rose Kasmir confronts the National Guard outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam War march, 1967. © Marc Riboud

This is a very iconic picture for many reasons as it totally symbolized the hippy creed of love overcoming all adversity and conflict.

The key to the appeal of Riboud’s seminal image may be Kasmir’s empathy for her adversary. “All of a sudden, I realized ‘them’ was that soldier in front of me—a human being I could just as easily have been going out on a date with,” Kasmir says. “It wasn’t a war machine, it was just a bunch of guys with orders. Right then, it went from being a fun, hip trip to a painful reality.” (Source)


SAIGON, Vietnam—The Saigon fire department, which has the job of collecting the dead from city streets, has just placed a girl, killed by U.S. helicopter fire, in the back of their truck, where her brother finds her, 1968. © Philip Jones Griffiths

Grief has been a main subject for many photographers and the little boy’s despair is heartbreaking.

Paris Riot

PARIS—Students hurl projectiles during the May 1968 student protest. © Bruno Barbey

The student protest in Paris was no Tiananmen but was a remarkably fun period for many students because of the massive energy on the streets. Protests, films, arts, secret meetings, marches, songs.. .the id unleashed in full glory. Barbey’s picture makes them look like they were dancing.


MEXICO—Mexicans are arrested while trying to cross the U.S. border, 1979. © Alex Webb

I love the color in this one. The maroon and browns of the shirts with the yellow daffodils. The helicopter becomes a misplaced contraption within the natural environment.

Afghan girl

PESHAWAR, Pakistan—An Afghan girl at Nasir Bagh refugee camp, 1984. © Steve McCurry

No worthy collection of seminal photography would ignore this iconic picture by McCurry. National Geographic made it big and this is really just a beautiful picture. Her eyes are incredible.

New Brighton

NEW BRIGHTON, United Kingdom—1985. © Martin Parr

I would love to know the context of this slightly surrealistic picture. Is he sunbathing or protesting with his body? The placement of the body just in front of the demolishing tractor just makes it so ambiguous. Love the little kid in pink.

Iran women

TEHRAN, Iran—Veiled women learn how to shoot in the outskirts of the city, 1986. © Jean Gaumy

Powerful picture. Women in Iran are generally treated like crap and heavily controlled by many fundamentalist rules. This picture is empowering and shows the strength of Iranian women.

Tiananmen square

BEIJING, China—Tiananmen Square, 1989. © Stuart Franklin

I can see why this picture was such a big hit when it was published. One person can make a change. Just one is usually enough to derail a movement or at least force it to reflect upon itself.

Tank Man, or the Unknown Rebel, is the nickname of an anonymous man who became internationally famous when he was videotaped and photographed during the Tiananmen Square protests on 5 June 1989. Several photographs were taken of the man, who stood in front of a column of Chinese Type 59 tanks, preventing their advance. (Wikipedia)