Friday, June 26, 2009

More Than A Thousand Words

cover story

A look at some of the world's most famous and iconic photographs

Let There Be Photography
View from the Window at Le Gras (1826)
Photographer: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, the inventor of photography, took what is believed to be the first successful permanent photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras, in 1826. The photo was captured using a camera obscura and shows the view from his workroom window on the upper storey of his country house in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France. The picture is currently on display in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

The 'Surgeon's Photograph' (1934)
Photographer: Robert Wilson? Marmaduke Wetherell?
In 1934, British surgeon Robert Wilson supposedly took a picture that appeared to show a sea serpent believed to live in Loch Ness in Scotland. The picture inspired a lot of interest in the Loch Ness Monster, making it one of the best-known mysteries in the world. In 1994, however, before his death at the age of 90, Christian Spurling, son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell (an employee of Daily Mail, who had been ridiculed in the newspaper), confessed that the picture wasn't of Nessie after all -- it was a staged photograph of a toy submarine with a head and neck made of plastic wood that he claimed he built to help Wetherell get back at the Daily Mail by asking Robert Wilson to offer the pictures to the newspaper. But despite Christian's confession, many still believe that Nessie did/does in fact actually exist. According to some, the picture may be a hoax, but that doesn't mean that the legend isn't true!

The Demise Of The Zeppelin
The Hindenburg Disaster (1937)
LZ 129 Hindenburg, a German commercial airship, started what would become its final voyage on May 3, 1937, on its way from Frankfurt to New Jersey. The Zeppelin was carrying only 36 passengers (half of its capacity of 72) along with 61 crewmembers; the cost of a one-way ticket had been US$400 (which would be equivalent to more than US$5,000 now). Three days later, at 7:25 p.m., when the aircraft was attempting to land, a fire broke out, engulfing the entire airship within 34 seconds; the exact cause of the fire remains unknown. The many journalists and photographers who were there awaiting the Zeppelin's first transatlantic passenger flight of the year, instead ended up capturing images of the destruction of the aircraft and the disaster that claimed 36 (13 passengers, 22 crew, 1 ground crew) lives.

The Ones That Shouldn't Have Been
Atomic Bombings, World War II (1945)
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. August 6 and 9, 1945. Little Boy and Fat Man. 140,000 + 80,000 casualties. And two images that captured the magnitude of the disaster that befell the cities, a cautious reminder of why this must never happen again.
Other famous WWII pictures include:
- Iwo Jima: The picture of American Soldiers raising their flag during the second flag-raising event of the day at Iwo Jima; taken on February 23rd 1945, by Joe Rosenthal
- The Dancing Man: A man, believed to be retired barrister Frank McAlary, dancing on the street in Sydney, Australia, on August 15, 1945, marking the end of World War II and symbolising victory in the war.

Nutty Professor?
Albert Einstein (1951)
Photographer: Arthur Sasse
Albert Einstein, considered to be one of the greatest minds of all time, is remembered just as much for his personality as his intellect. On March 14, 1951, his 72nd birthday, the German-born physicist was returning from an event that had taken place in his honour, and was being hounded by reporters. Tired of being asked to pose for pictures, Einstein, sitting on the backseat of a car, stuck out his tongue instead; the image was immortalised by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse, and became one of Einstein's most well recognised photos.

The Counterculture Icon
Guerrillero Heroico (1960)
Photographer: Alberto Korda
Argentine's revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who played a pivotal role in the Cuban guerrilla war, is considered one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. Seven years before his death, he was photographed by Alberto Korda at a memorial service in Havana in March 1960, when he (Che) stepped onto the podium and came into view for a few seconds during Fidel Castro's speech. The photograph gained worldwide recognition after Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli used it on posters after Che's execution in Bolivia in 1967, and is now believed to be the world's most famous photograph. It was also the basis of Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick's iconic stylised posters.

Guns & Roses
Flower Power (1967)
Photographer: Bernie Boston
Taken during the October 22 1967 anti-war 'march on the Pentagon', the photograph by Washington Star photographer Bernie Boston shows a Vietnam War protester putting flowers in the barrels of rifles held by National Guard troops. The man was later identified as 18-year-old George Harris from New York, who was on his way to San Francisco. The photograph is considered an emblem of the era and how some people felt towards the war.

Third Rock From The Sun
Earthrise (1968)
Photographer: William Anders
During the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, the first time humans were put into lunar orbit, astronauts Frank Borman and Bill Anders were stunned by the view of Earth, and despite the fact that photographing Earth wasn't on the mission schedule (they weren't supposed to photograph anything except "high resolution images of the lunar surface"), they took the pictures that came to be known as 'Earthrise' and have since led to reflection on our place in the universe. Borman took the earlier black-and-white frame, while the more popular colour photograph was taken by Anders.

One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Photography
Apollo 11 Moon Landing (1969)
The lunar landing of Apollo on July 20, 1969 marked the first time humans landed on the moon, and the photographs of the astronauts on the moon have become some of the most well known images ever, not only because of the significance of the event, but also because many people don't believe it actually happened! But despite the conspiracy theories regarding the supposed hoax, the pictures are among the most iconic images of the last century. Possibly the best known of these photographs are:
- Buzz Aldrin on the Moon: The photography of Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin taken by mission commander Neil Armstrong, who can also be seen through the visor's reflection.
- The bootprint: The image of Buzz Aldrin's bootprint on the moon, one of the first steps humans took on the lunar surface; a representation of mankind's venture into space.

The Haunting Eyes
The Afghan Girl (1984)
Photographer: Steve McCurry
During the Soviet-Afghan war in 1984, displaced Afghans sought shelter in refugee camps in Pakistan. Among them was an orphaned girl, around 13 years of age, who was photographed by National Geographic's Steve McCurry at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp and ended up becoming one of the world's most recognized faces. Her picture, which first appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic Magazine, came to symbolize the plight of refugees worldwide. The identity of the girl with the haunting green eyes remained a mystery for nearly two decades in which the photographer made many attempts to find her during subsequent trips to the region; then in 2002 a National Geographic team finally managed to locate her and photographed her for the second time. Sharbat Gula, by then in her 30s, was living with her husband and three daughters in Afghanistan; she had moved back in the early '90s. She had never seen her photograph, had no idea how famous it had become, and according to McCurry, she "travelled 10 hours from her village in Afghanistan to meet us in Peshawar" and "was never photographed before or since the two times I photographed her".

Man versus Machine
Tank Man (1989)
Photographer: Jeff Widener
Following weeks of protests in China calling for political reform, and government crackdown that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the Tiananmen Square became the site of a showdown between protesters and soldiers. A photograph by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener (who was injured and had the flu at the time, and took the picture from the Beijing Hotel) has immortalized the suppression and come to symbolise protests against oppression. On June 5, 1989, an unknown man stepped right in front of a column of tanks, halting their progress. Video footage shows that the lead tank attempted to drive around the man, but couldn't; the man, at one point, climbed onto the tank and said something to a tank crewmember. The man would later resume his standoff with the tank and was eventually led off by two people as the tanks continued on their way. No one knows what happened to the "unknown rebel" – some believe he was taken away by police and executed; others think he might still be alive and living in hiding.

Hope, Change, and Progress
Barack Obama (2006)
Photographer: Mannie Garcia
This might've been just another photograph of Barack Obama had it not been for the power of the digital age. Hoping to design a poster in support of Barack Obama, artist Shepard Fairey found a photograph of Obama using Google Image Search and spent a day on the artwork. The image, quickly spreading through social media, soon gained an iconic status. But Fairey had based the poster on a 2006 photograph of Obama (the then Democratic Senator from Illinois) taken by freelance photographer Mannie Garcia on assignment for the Associated Press, and used the picture without permission. Now, Fairey contends that he did not infringe any copyright as his use of the photo was protected by the fair use doctrine; photographer Mannie Garcia says that, according to his AP contract, he retains the copyright to the photo; and the Associated Press asserts that "the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission". The copyright craziness has led to much debate, and has added a whole different aspect to the image.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 26th June, 2009

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