Are these the 5 most famous photographs in history? You decide

Published on 30 June 2024 at 22:44

“Migrant Mother” (1936)

In March 1936, photographer Dorothea Lange captured what many consider to be the most recognizable photo from the Great Depression. The image, titled “Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California,” features a 32-year-old farmworker and mother of seven who was later identified as Florence Owens Thompson.

At the time, Lange was working for the Farm Security Administration, a federal agency meant to help farm workers who were displaced during the Dust Bowl.

Toward the end of Thompson’s life, people sent donations to her family to help cover the cost of the matriarch’s medical bills, and many wrote letters saying how much the image of Thompson inspired them. These gestures allowed the family to reconsider the legacy of the photograph, which they began to view with a sense of pride.

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“Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” (1945)

Joe Rosenthal was a photographer for the Associated Press during World War II whose legacy was defined by the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.” Rosenthal captured the iconic event on February 23, 1945, on the small Japanese island of Iwo Jima, roughly 750 miles south of Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean. The picture depicts six men triumphantly raising an American flag, and commemorates an important military victory — though there’s a good deal more to the story.

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“Guerrillero Heroico” (1960)

The photograph “Guerrillero Heroico” (“Heroic Guerrilla Fighter”) depicts Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, whose likeness has grown into a symbol used by counterculture groups around the world. The original image was taken by photographer Alberto Korda on March 5, 1960, depicting Guevara gazing stoically off into the distance. While the image may seem posed, it was actually captured by a stroke of luck in a mere matter of seconds.

While standing by the podium with his eyes focused on Castro, the photographer noticed that Guevara had emerged directly above him. He quickly grabbed his Leica camera and snapped two photos in rapid succession, before Guevara stepped back.

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“Elvis Meets Nixon” (1970)

In 1970, two of the most recognizable men in the world met face to face for the first time: Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon. The unlikely meeting took place on December 21, 1970, within the Oval Office, resulting in a now-legendary photo of the pair shaking hands. This image and others were taken by Nixon’s personal photographer, Oliver F. Atkins, who chronicled the impromptu and secret encounter that day.

The pair agreed that the meeting should be kept a secret, as neither side was sure how their supporters would react. It wasn’t until January 1972 that word of this strange event finally broke, though nothing practical ever really came of it.

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“Tank Man” (1989)

Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener spent the spring of 1989 in Beijing, China, covering the Tiananmen Square protests. On June 5, he captured an image that’s considered one of the most powerful acts of defiance in the face of authoritarian rule. His photo, titled “Tank Man,” shows an anonymous man in black pants and a white shirt standing in front of a line of tanks, refusing to let them continue patrolling the square.

On April 15, Hu Yaobang died. Hu had attempted to push the country toward democratization, an effort that resonated with many Chinese youth. The government was far less open to such reforms. After Hu’s death, around 100,000 students descended on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to continue pushing for his reforms and to protest the corrupt Chinese Communist Party that remained in power.

A rally on May 19 drew 1.2 million people to the square. This led to a horrible massacre on June 4, when military forces opened fire on demonstrators and killed hundreds, or possibly thousands.

On June 5, an anonymous lone man stepped into the middle of Chang’an Avenue on the edge of Tiananmen Square while a line of tanks approached him. Widener captured the most recognizable single image of the scene, which shows the man standing in front of four tanks, preventing their forward progress. Other, more zoomed-out photos show the true enormity of the situation, as there were dozens more tanks all in a line heading directly toward this single protester.

After several tense moments, two mysterious men emerged and dragged the protester away. Today, nobody truly knows the identity of “Tank Man” or what happened to him.

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