Published on February 23, 2014
Short descriptions of 16 pictures that made history
‘Che’, described as a ‘guerrilla hero’, appears in a black beret with his face looking out, in a photograph taken by Alberto Korda on March 5, 1960. Guevara, 31 years old at that time, was attending a funeral for victims of an explosion at Coubre. The photo was published seven years later. The Art Institute of Maryland (USA) has called it ‘the most famous photo and graphic icon of the twentieth century’. Indeed, this photograph has been reproduced many times around the world and is considered one of the ten greatest photographic portraits of all time. It is a universal symbol of rebellion for human principles against social injustice.
Omayra Sanchez was a little girl who died during the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which destroyed the town of Armero, Colombia, in 1985. Omayra was stuck for three days in the mud, water, corpses of relatives and debris from her home. She was 13 years old. Rescuers found that it was impossible to save her as they would have had to amputate her legs. The other option was to use a pump-turbine to suck the sticky mud. The only pump available was too far away and unavailable. Omayra was strong till the last moment of her life. According to aid workers and journalists who were with her for three days, she was thinking about returning to school and passing exams. Thanks to photographer Frank Fournier, the image of Omayra travelled the world exposing the indifference of the Colombian government to ordinary, destitute Columbians (which has not changed much today). The photograph was published several months after the young girl died. Many view this picture of 1985 as the beginning of what we now call the globalization of agony.
A picture taken by Javier Bauluz, a Spanish photographer and winner of a Pulitzer Prize, shows two Spanish tourists on a beach looking at the lifeless body of a clandestine boat immigrant. The picture was part of a report on the entry of illegal immigrants through the shores of Western Europe. It denounces people’s indifference to the tragedies of others. Following its publication in La Vanguardia and the New York Times, reviews and commentaries poured into Spain.
On June 8, 1972, a US fighter jet bombed the population of Trang Bang in Vietnam with napalm. Kim Phuc was there with her family. With her clothes on fire, the nine year old girl ran away along with other children. At one point, her clothes burned out. This picture was shot, at that moment, by the famous photographer Nick Ut. Kim stayed in hospital for 14 months. The girl underwent 17 operations for skin grafts. Anyone looking at this photograph can see the intensity of the despair and human suffering created by wars (still raging in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Columbia, Congo, Iraq, occupied Palestine and Somalia), especially the effects on children and women. Today, Pham Thi Kim Phuc, the little girl in the photo, is married with two children. She lives in Canada where she presides over the Kim Phuc Foundation where the mission is to help child victims of war. She is also an ambassador for UNESCO.
‘The colonel killed the prisoner. I killed the colonel with my camera,’ said Eddie Adams, the war photographer who took this snapshot. It shows the coldblooded assassination of a Vietcong guerrilla on February 1, 1968, by the police chief of Saigon. The Vietcong hands were tied behind his back when he was shot at close range. Adams, who had been a correspondent for 13 wars, won a Pulitzer Prize for this picture. He was so emotionally affected by the event that he changed his profession.
Gharbat Gula was photographed when she was 12 by photographer Steve McCurry, in June 1984, in the refugee camp of Nasir Bagh in Pakistan during the insurrection against the Soviet invasion. Her portrait was featured on the cover of National Geographic in June 1985 because of her expressive face with green eyes. However, at that time, nobody knew the name of the girl. The photographer spent 17 years searching for the girl. He took many trips to the region until, in January 2002, he found her. She was a 30 year old married woman with three children. Finally he discovered her name. Gharbat Gula returned to Afghanistan in 1992 where she lives in a remote village. Nobody had ever taken a photo of her before McCurry and she did not know that her face had become famous. The woman's identity was confirmed at 99.9% through facial recognition technology used by the FBI and especially by the comparison of the two photographed irises.
‘Say goodbye to war’ was taken by Victor Jorgensen in Times Square, New York City, on August 14, 1945. We can see a US marine passionately kissing a nurse. Contrary to popular belief, these two characters were not partners but passers-by who had just met there. The photograph, an icon, is seen as the reflection of the excitement and passion of returning home (sweet home) after a long absence, and the joy felt at the end of war.
The ‘Unknown Rebel’ was the nickname given to an anonymous man who became internationally famous for being photographed standing before a line of tanks during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989 in China. The photo was taken by Jeff Widener. The man seems to be stopping the advance of the tanks and the image has been around the world. In China, the picture was used by the government as a symbol of compassion the soldiers of the People's Liberation Army felt towards the Chinese people and their desire to protect them. Despite orders to advance, the tank driver refused to do so.
Thich Quang Duc was born in 1897. He was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk (also called a bonze) who burned himself to death on a busy street in Saigon on June 11, 1963. His act of sacrifice, which was repeated by other monks, was memorable. It was witnessed by David Halberstam. As his body burned, the monk remained motionless. He did not cry. He did not even make a sound. Thich Quang Duc was protesting against the way the US-backed administration of South Vietnam was manipulating Buddhism to further its goals. After his death, his body was cremated according to Buddhist tradition. During the cremation, his heart remained intact. Thich was considered a saint and his heart was kept as a relic at the Reserve Bank of Vietnam. This was the origin of the term ‘selfimmolation’, which, contrary to what people think, is not about committing suicide but about sacrificing oneself –a form of political protest.
The brilliant Sudanese photographer Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize with a photograph taken in a small village in Sudan in the region of Ayod. The picture has toured the world. It shows a hopeless little girl, totally emaciated, lying on the floor, exhausted by hunger and dying, while in the background, the black silhouette of a vulture watching and waiting for her death. Four months later, overwhelmed by guilt and driven by a strong dependence on drugs, Kevin Carter committed suicide. The destitution shown in the photograph is the direct result of the continuous meddling of Western foreign powers in Sudan in order to grab its riches. As a result of this and the inefficiency and corruption of the local government, Sudanese die of starvation in a country considered to be the richest in Africa in terms of agriculture.
‘The Falling Man’ is the title of a photograph taken by Richard Drew on September 11, 2001, during the attacks against the twin towers of the World Trade Center at 9:41:15 in the morning. In the picture we can see a man falling from the towers. By jumping he is most likely choosing a rapid and violent death instead of slowly dying of burns and smoke. The publication of this document shortly after the attacks angered some sections of the American public. Most media refused to include this picture in their vehicles, preferring to show pictures depicting acts of heroism and sacrifice. Some people are attempting to discover the identity of the falling man. The picture depicts the weakness and fragility of man.
During an uprising in Puerto Cabello in Carabobo State, Venezuela, in 1962 – an episode known as the Porteñazo – the ruling dictatorship violently suppressed the insurgents. The picture depicts Padre Luis Maria Padilla holding a wounded soldier in his arms. While the padre was trying to lift him up the soldier could hardly say ‘my father help me’ before being shot again. This photo toured the world and was the sole recipient of the Pulitzer Prize World Press Photo. The tragic death of this unlucky man proves that government soldiers (and insurgents alike) always pay the heavy price, not the ruling class.
The struggle of landless farmers This photograph by Luiz Vasconcelos earned an award in the Singles of the World Press Photo in the General News category in 2009. It depicts a woman with her child trying to resist eviction by riot police on the outskirts of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon and illustrates the struggle of landless Indian farmers against white Creole landowners. It is scary to view this image and to think of family and children.
Under the claws of the bulldozer Rachel Aliene Corrie was an American member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). She was born on April 10, 1979, and murdered on March 16, 2003. She was crushed to death in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli Army bulldozer, while she was kneeling in front of a local Palestinian's home, thus acting as a human shield, attempting to prevent Israeli Occupation Forces from demolishing the home. The pictures depict her before and after her cold-blooded murder. The spokesman for the Israeli Occupation Army stated that the death was due to the restricted angle of view of the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer driver, while ISM eyewitnesses said ‘there was nothing to obscure the driver's view’. A student at the Evergreen State College, Rachel had taken a year off and travelled to the Gaza Strip to understand the truth of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, which is often covered up. This young 24 year old martyr proves that the naturally rebellious spirit of the ordinary American people against the forces of evil is alive and well.
The child resisting the tank A Palestinian child opposing an Israeli Army Occupation tank in Palestine – picture taken in the 1990s in the Occupied West Bank by an unknown photographer This photograph shows the fierce resistance of an entire population, devoid of any support, facing a brutal occupation of their country. It is said that Palestine is probably the only country in the 21st century still being directly colonized. As such it has become the largest open air prison in the world ever since its occupation by Israeli settlers in 1948.
Some people believe in God, others not, but we must think and think again how small we are before the forces of nature. This photo was taken on the coast of Sumatra Island in Indonesia during an overwhelming tsunami, with waves measuring up to 20m in height. The picture was found a month and a half later in a digital camera. Whoever took this picture, no doubt, ceased to exist a few seconds after pressing the trigger of the small machine.