A picture is worth a thousand words. And some powerful photos carry an incredible story that is worth a million. From the photo of a malnourished girl taking her last breath in a war-torn country to the one of a man free-falling from the World Trade Center, these photos are more than just photos. They carry stories worth reading.
Djalu used to say that sometimes when he’s taking someone’s picture, he realizes that he’s capturing someone’s last smile. In those cases, he feels like he’s capturing life, not just a face.
Like Djalu, the photographers behind these powerful photos have not just captured a moment, they have in fact captured entire stories without uttering a single word.
1. The “Napalm Girl”, Vietnam
This image is perhaps the most famous photo of the Vietnam War. It is a photo of a young Vietnamese girl running naked after being severely burned by napalm. This iconic photo was taken by Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut, a South Vietnamese photographer working for Associated Press.
Ut was 23 years old when he took this photo, and he is said to have cried when he took the picture. The picture won him a Pulitzer Prize. It showed the true horrors of the Vietnam War and became one of the most memorable images of the Vietnam War.
2. Kent State University students killed, 1970
On May 4, 1970, protests against the Vietnam War broke out on the campus of Kent State University. At noon, the Ohio National Guard arrived on campus to disperse the students. In all, 13 students were killed and another nine were wounded. Guard members had opened fire on the crowd and the image above shows a female student lamenting on a fallen colleague, shot in the chest. The students were protesting against the Cambodian Campaign and the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia.
3. ‘Tank Man’ of Tiananmen Square, 1989
This image was taken during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in Beijing, China. On June 5, a column of more than 200 tanks surrounded the square, and army troops were deployed. Hundreds of thousands of protesters were still in the square.
A man in a white shirt and black pants walked in front of a column of tanks, carrying two shopping bags. He continued to walk forward even as the tanks continued to approach. A few minutes later, the tank stopped moving and the man was pulled away by bystanders. The image inspired people throughout China, and it became a symbol of the protests against the government.
4. Dachau Liberation, 1945
The liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany on April 29, 1945, was one of the most significant events of WWII. This photo shows American soldiers, who were all members of the 45th Infantry Division, standing amid piles of dead bodies. It is said that the soldiers were forced to view the corpses as a reminder of why they were fighting. The image was taken by the 45th Infantry Division photographer, Sgt. George R. Burrows.
5. Alan Kurdi Washed Up On The Shore
On September 2, 2015, Alan Kurdi, his brother, and his mother drowned near Bodrum, Turkey. His father survived and tried to save his family, but their boat capsized. The photo of Alan’s lifeless body on shore sparked worldwide attention. It was taken by Nilüfer Demir, a photojournalist for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. The image was widely covered by the media and shared on social media.
6. The Falling Man, New York
On September 11, 2001, more than 2,600 died from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. The photograph by Richard Drew of the Twin Towers is the most iconic image of the tragedy and became a symbol of the day.
In the picture, a man is seen falling from the World Trade Center, his body contorted. But the identity of the man is unknown. In an interview, the photographer said, “When I took the picture, I could see the flames behind him and it looked like he was holding on to something. It didn’t look like he was falling.” The identity and the fate of the man remain unknown till today.
7. The Falling Soldier, Vietnam
This is one of the most famous Vietnam War photographs. It was taken by Eddie Adams on February 1, 1968, during the Tet Offensive in Saigon. The soldier in the picture, Nguyen Van Lam, was a South Vietnamese National Policeman.
At that time, he was shot by a Viet Cong sniper while running with his comrades. The photograph was controversial because the photographer said that he shot it when the soldier was already dead.
8. The vulture and the little girl
In this photo, taken in 1993, a vulture landed near a starving girl in Sudan. When it landed, the vulture started pecking at the girl, and she tried to fight it off. This photo was captured by Kevin Carter, a South African photojournalist, and won him the Pulitzer Prize.
Carter never accepted the award as he felt that he didn’t deserve it. He left journalism shortly after the photo was published. He committed suicide in 1994, at age 33. The reason for his suicide is still unclear but it is widely accepted that the memory of this photo haunted him.
9. The Beslan School Massacre
On September 1, 2004, armed militants took over a school in Beslan, Russia, and took more than 1,000 people hostage. The militants demanded the independence of Chechnya. The siege lasted three days and ended with the death of more than 380 people, including 186 children.
The photo, taken by journalist Yuri Kozyrev, shows a mother with her child during the siege. This photo was published in newspapers worldwide.
10. Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, 1945
This Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph was taken by Joe Rosenthal. It was taken on February 23, 1945, on the island of Iwo Jima, one of the five islands in the Volcano Islands group. The photo depicts five Marines and a Navy sailor raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi. The flag-raising is one of the most famous images of the war, and it became the inspiration for the Marine Corps War Memorial (a statue depicting the Marines raising the flag) in Arlington, Virginia.
11. McCurry’s Iconic Afghan Girl
This image is of Sharbat Gula, a 12-year-old girl who was photographed by Steve McCurry in 1984 in a refugee camp in Pakistan. She was originally from Afghanistan, but she was displaced from her home because of war. Her image became a symbol of the plight of refugees around the world, and it was used in the original “A World at Risk” report by Ted Turner.
McCurry tracked her down in 2002 in Afghanistan, and they collaborated on a book, “The Afghan Girl”. In 2012, she was granted a temporary residence card in Turkey, and in 2013, she was granted full citizenship.
12. ‘The Kiss’ by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945
This image is of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, New York, on August 14, 1945. It has been called one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century. Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the moment when 63-year-old nurse Edith Shain embraced a sailor in her arms. The sailor was George Mendonsa of Norwood, Massachusetts, and the nurse, Greta Zimmer Friedman, was from Austria.
The Navy was holding a kissing contest in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II. Eisenstaedt said that what makes the image so powerful is the expression of Friedman’s face.
It’s a great photo because it’s a fraction of a second. It’s a very simple composition. He’s looking at her and she’s looking at him, he said.