A picture can capture a fond memory between lovers. It can encapsulate a life-changing event. Photos can be a tool to revisit a childhood memory. It may be a reminder of a departed beloved. Sadly, a picture can also capture humankind’s worst moments. The global community associates entire world events to a single picture. The people in these iconic images become symbols and forever mark their place in history books. The photos listed below captured the dark side of humanity but, in doing so, sparked a conversation.
The young girl, Sharbat Gula, became an international symbol of Afghanistan after being on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985. Steve McCurry took the portrait at a refugee camp in Pakistan. McCurry captured the picture when Gula was only 12 years old. Her piercing green eyes and 80’s glam shot pose juxtaposed the fear in her eyes and her worn-out clothes. McCurry stated the terror in her eyes “The Fear of War”, but Gula said she was scared that a male journalist entered an all-girls school. In 2016, the Pakistani authority deported her after being arrested on charges of obtaining false documents. Human rights groups condemned the Pakistani government for sending her back to Afghanistan. Gula blames the magazine cover for being caught.
In 1936, Photojournalist Dorothea Lange shot this iconic image of 32-year-old woman Florence Owens with her children at a pea-pickers camp in California, USA. Lange titled the image Migrant Mother, which was part of a project to document the plight of migrant agricultural workers. This image became one of the most well-known pictures during this time, as it was published in newspapers. It created an instetive for the government to deliver food aid to the Nipomo camp. Lange’s photograph became a symbol of the Great Depression, even though the mother’s identity remained a mystery until the late 1970s because the photojournalist did not ask her name. Owens was highly critical of the photo because she felt exploited and wished Lange had never taken it.
This picture was one of the most heart-wrenching pictures of the second Intifada. It documented the shooting of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammed Al-Durrah, at the hands of the Israeli army. The father shielding his child from the crossfire between the IDF and the resistance, the photo was graphic and violent and appealed to the humanity of the worldwide community. But, the picture stirred a quite bit of controversy. The image is a still from the France 2 TV coverage of the events in the Gaza Strip. At first, the IDF accepted responsibility soon after Israel claimed that he and Jamal, Muhammed’s father, were wounded before the incident pictured on 20 September 2000. The French ruled against the occupation’s claims after Jamal sued Israel.
The photo of the toddler boy dressed in a red T-shirt and blue pants lifeless body lying face down on a Turkish beach sent tears streaming down all of our faces. The little Syrian boy was a victim of a failed attempt to immigrate with his family to the Greek Island of Kos. The Turkish media identified the three-year-old boy as Alan Kurdi. Later, the Turkish officials reported that his five-year-old brother met the fate. Further investigations conveyed that from the two boats carrying a total of 23 people, 12 people had died. The horrific image sparked a conversation about how we should deal with the European refugee crisis.
Jeff Widener was annoyed by the man running his shot as he was ruining his composition. Little did he know it was about to be one of the most iconic photos in history. The Tank Man, also known as The Unknown Protester or Unknown Rebel, captures an unidentified Chinese man who stood in front of tanks. The tanks were leaving Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 5, 1989, the day after the Chinese government had massacred hundreds of protesters. The man kept shifting his position to stop the lead tank from passing him. The worldwide audience shared that clip and images. The fate of Tank Man is unknown.