Best Photography of All Time – Ranked

I created the meta-list below by collecting over 22 lists with titles like The Best Photography of All Time, The Greatest Photographs Ever, The Most Important Photos, The Most Iconic Photos, The Most Influential Photos. I also included the photographs highlighted in several history of photography books.  In order to diversify the list, I also collected lists of the best photographs in particular genres, such as photojournalism, street photography, fashion photography, portraiture, nature and landscape photography and art photography. I then compiled all the lists into one meta-list to determine which photos were on the most lists. The most-listed photo was on 22 of the lists I found. The list below includes every photograph that was on at least three of the original lists, organized by rank (that is, with the photos on the most lists at the top). Photos that were on the same number of lists are organized chronologically. Each entry includes the number of lists the photo is on, the title (note that many photographs have multiple titles – I have tried to mention alternate titles in the text), the date (usually the date of the exposure, but sometimes the date of the print) and the photographer’s name. A short essay with additional salient information, such as the photographic equipment used, follows in most cases.

Note: These are not my personal opinions.  The most-listed photos are not necessarily the best photos, they are the photos on the most “best photos” lists.

A few warnings: (1) some of the photos contained in these lists depict death and other tragic situations and may be disturbing; (2) nudity is a fairly common theme in art and fashion photography. I find some of the photographers’ depictions of women to be objectifying and misogynistic, but you be the judge. (3) Many of these photos are still under copyright, so please have respect for the photographers’ legal rights – I have added links to purchase prints in some cases. I believe my use of these lower resolution images falls under the doctrine of fair use and also serves an educational purpose.  Don’t forget to click on the photos to enlarge them.

For a longer list with more photographs, go to Best Photography of All Time: Chronological I and Chronological II, a two-part chronological survey of photos on two or more of the lists described above.  For a chronological list of the best photographers and their best photos, including portraits of the photographers, go here.

On 22 Lists
Migrant Mother – Nipomo, California (1936) – Dorothea Lange
Dorothea Lange was working as a photographer for the U.S. Resettlement Administration in early 1936 when she visited California to photograph migrant farm laborers.  Lange met Florence Owens Thompson and her children in a migrant camp in Nipomo, California and took a series of photographs, including this iconic image of the Great Depression. Thompson told Lange she was 32 years old and that she, her husband and seven children had been living on what vegetables they could find in the surrounding fields and some birds that the children had killed.  Lange used a 4 X 5 Graflex camera for this enduring shot.

On 14 Lists
View from the Window at Le Gras (1826) – Nicéphore Niépce
This view from the window of French inventor Nicéphore Niépce is believed to be the first permanent photograph ever made. The process Niépce called heliography involved setting up a camera obscura in the window of his home in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes and focusing it onto a pewter plate measuring 6.4 inches by 8 inches that he covered with bitumen.  After an exposure of at least eight hours (an inference based on the sunlight illuminating both sides of the street), but possibly as long as several days (based on attempts to recreate the event), the bitumen hardened in the brightly lit areas, while the bitumen in the dark areas was washed away with oil of lavender mixed with white petroleum.  Unlike prior attempts to capture the images created by the camera obscura, the resulting photograph was permanent, although the image was only visible when the pewter plate was held at an angle.  The plate disappeared about 1905 but was rediscovered by historian Helmut Gernsheim in 1952.  Gernsheim had a modern photographic copy made (damaging the original in the process) and then heavily retouched it to create the image shown above.  The original heliograph plate (shown below) is now at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
first photograph

On 13 lists
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death (1936) – Robert Capa
robert capa death of loyalist larger
Hungarian photographer Robert Capa was only 22 years old in September 1936 when he received an assignment to photograph the Loyalist militia in the Spanish Civil War.  When the above photo (also known as Death of a Loyalist Soldier), was published in the French magazine VU and later in Life, it was identified as taking place during a battle at Cerro Murino.  The soldier was later identified as Federico Borrell Garcia, who was killed at Cerro Murino.  But in the 1970s, expert analysis of the background landscape proved that the location of the photo is not Cerro Murino but Espejo, 30 miles away and far from any fighting.  Many now believe that Capa staged the famous photograph with models, not real soldiers. Others agree that the location of the photo is Espejo and the man is not Federico Borrell Garcia, but the photo may still show a soldier “at the moment of death.”

General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon (1968)
– Eddie Adams
eddie adams execution photo larger
Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams, an American, won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography and a World Press Photo award for this photo of South Vietnamese police chief General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Viet Cong prisoner Nguyễn Văn Lém on a street in the Cholon section of Saigon, on February 1, 1968, at the beginning of the Tet Offensive. Adams was photographing the prisoner and his captors when General Loan approached and pointed a gun at the prisoner’s head, as was common during interrogations. Instead of using the gun as a threat, Loan suddenly shot and killed Lem there on the street. NBC-TV captured the event on video. The photo by Adams spread around the globe almost instantly.  Although the Vietcong prisoner was accused of killing civilians as part of a ‘revenge squad’, the photograph destroyed the reputation of General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, so much so that Adams wrote in Time magazine, “The general killed the Vietcong, but I killed the general with my camera.”

On 12 lists
The Steerage
(1907) – Alfred Stieglitz
The Steerage.
When American photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his family traveled to Europe in a first class berth on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1907, the movement known as pictorialism had dominated photography for several decades. Pictorialists believed that photographs could become art, but only through the skillful manipulations of the artist at all stages of the photographic process. Straight photography, is it was known, was merely scientific representation of reality, with no artistic mediator.  Pictorialist photos were rarely in sharp focus, and tended to have the quality of perfectly-composed paintings. Some pictorialists went even further and constructed artistic photographs by using multiple negatives. A gallery owner and magazine editor, Stieglitz was a major force behind the notion that photography could be art and was considered a pictorialist in 1907.  Yet his photo of the steerage section of the Kaiser Wilhelm, with its sharp details and attention to structural lines, is anything but pictorialist. Instead, The Steerage eventually became evidence that straight photography could also be artistic. Stieglitz himself did not immediately recognize the importance of his watershed image – it was only four years later, in 1911, that he published it in one of his photography magazines.  He published it again in 1913 and by 1915 devoted a whole issue of 291 magazine to The Steerage. By that time, the tide had begun to turn away from pictorialism and toward straight photography.

On 11 lists
Boulevard du Temple, Paris
(1838) – Louis Daguerre
One of the earliest images produced by French photography pioneer Louis Daguerre is this 1838 daguerreotype of the Boulevard du Temple, a busy Paris street. It is not only one of the first photographs but is also probably the first time the new medium captured the image of a human being. The process Daguerre invented after the death of his mentor, Nicéphore Niépce, involved coating a thin silver-plated copper sheet with light-sensitive silver iodide and then exposing the plate in the camera.  At first, exposure times were ten minutes or more, but over time, Daguerre was able to reduce the time to a few seconds. Daugerreotypes were known for their extremely detailed and realistic images in contrast to the grainy and fuzzy pictures resulting from other early photographic processes.  Drawbacks of the process were that multiple prints could not be made from an exposure, and the images degraded by contact with air or by any scratching or friction.  The Boulevard du Temple daugerreotype required a 10-minute exposure, which means that most pedestrians and carriages did not stand still long enough to be recorded, creating the illusion of a ghostly barren thoroughfare.  The exception, in the lower left, is the man getting his shoes shined – he stood still long enough to register on film and in history as the first photographed human.

A Harvest of Death, Battlefield of Gettysburg (1863) – Timothy H. O’Sullivan
The Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War, raged from July 1-3, 1863. Just two days later, photographers Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan arrived at battlefields that were still covered with the dead. Irish-born O’Sullivan had left Matthew Brady’s studio to work for Scottish-born Gardner, another Brady alumnus.  His photo A Harvest of Death, taken July 5 or 6, became one of over 50 of his images reproduced in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866).  We see Union and Confederate dead lying as they fell, with missing shoes and rifled pockets a sign that survivors had already come and taken anything they could make use of.  The bloating of the corpses in the July sun has caused buttons to pop and clothing to open. Gardner’s original caption stated, in part, “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death’ … Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry.  Here are the dreadful details!  Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.”  O’Sullivan used the collodion wet plate process, which by then had mostly replaced daugerreotypes, and Gardner made an albumen silver print for use in the Sketch Book.

V-J Day in Times Square “The Kiss” (1945) – Alfred Eisenstaedt
The Kiss.
Born to a Jewish family in Germany, Alfred Eisenstaedt began his photography career as a Berlin freelancer in 1928, going full-time a year later. Before he emigrated to the US in 1935, Eisenstaedt had photographed, among others, Hitler, Goebbels and Mussolini.  From his new home in New York City, he worked for Life magazine from 1936 to 1972, and saw 90 of his photographs featured on the cover of that highly-regarded publication. Eisenstaedt’s most famous Life photo was V-J Day in Times Square, also known as The Kiss, which shows an American sailor kissing a woman in a nurse’s white dress on August 14, 1945, the day Japan surrendered and World War II ended.  Eisenstaedt used a Leica IIIa camera to capture the dark-and-light contrasting couple (if the sailor had worn white, Eisenstaedt said later, he wouldn’t have snapped the shutter).  He was unable to obtain the names of the kisser and kissee; over the years, several people claimed to be the subjects.  While most viewing the photo find that it expresses the joy and exuberance of the moment the war years ended, others have expressed concern that the sailor may be committing a socially-sanctioned sexual assault on the nurse, a view that may find unintentional support in the original Life photo caption: “In the middle of New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.”

On 10 lists
The Horse in Motion
(series) (1878) – Eadweard Muybridge
In 1872, prominent California politician and businessman Leland Stanford asked English-born photographer Eadweard Muybridge to settle a question that had perplexed both experts and the public for years: Did all four of a running horse’s legs ever leave the ground?  The horse’s legs moved too quickly for human eyes to see, but Stanford believed Muybridge could answer the question with photography. Muybridge initially experimented with a single camera using very short shutter speeds to photograph the horse Occident in 1872, 1873, and 1877. This resulted in one grainy photograph that showed all four feet off the ground, but retouching of the negative led experts to regard the resulting published print as a manipulated fake. In 1878, Muybridge tried a different approach.  He set up 12 closely-spaced cameras along a racetrack with wires that the horse’s legs would trip, causing each camera to make an exposure of approximately 1/1000 of a second.  With the press watching on June 15, 1878, a jockey ran the trotter Abe Edgington around the track at a 2:24 gait.  Muybridge quickly developed the film – which showed all four legs off the ground in the ninth frame of the series – and presented it to the gathered crowd.  During the next few days, Muybridge had several different horses run the track at different paces – trotting, cantering and galloping.  Later in the same year, he published The Horse in Motion, a set of six photographic cards that included the 12 photos from the original Abe Edgington run (see image below) as well along with two other trots by the same horse on June 18 (one with eight frames and one with six frames), a trot by Occident, a canter by Mahomet on June 17 (six frames) and a gallop at a gait of 1:40 by thoroughbred Sallie Gardner on June 19 (12 frames).  “Sallie Gardner” (see image above) became the most well-known of the six-pack of cards, perhaps because the second frame of the series illustrates the “flying horse” pose much better than the photographs of the trotters.  Soon after the success of Horses in Motion, Muybridge doubled the number of cameras, resulting in even more detailed information about motion.  Engravings of Muybridge’s series made it into newspapers and the front page of Scientific American magazine.  Muybridge also converted the photos into silhouettes and then ran them in a zoopraxiscope to create an animated ‘movie’ of the horse galloping, one of the earliest precursors of motion pictures.

Gandhi at his Spinning Wheel (1946) – Margaret Bourke-White
gandhi at spinning wheel bourke-white
In early 1946, as Indian independence (and the tragic Partition that followed) loomed on the horizon, Life magazine sent star photographer Margaret Bourke-White to photograph India’s leaders, including Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi was living in a communal ashram, and all members were required to spin thread. When Bourne-White asked to photograph Gandhi at his spinning wheel, he encouraged her to learn to spin first. (A photo of Bourke-White with a loom – see below – provides evidence that she followed the suggestion.) The famous photo actually depicts Gandhi not during but shortly after his early morning spinning session, while he is reviewing some documents. Life did not publish the photo with the article it was taken for, but first used it to illustrate a shorter piece later in 1946. It was only the prominent use of the photo in Life’s 1948 spread on Gandhi’s assassination that established its iconic status.

Guerrillero Heroico (1960) – Alberto Korda
Korda's portrait of Che Guevara.
On March 4, 1960, the French ship La Coubre exploded in Havana harbor in Cuba under suspicious circumstances, killing nearly 100 people and injuring many more. Cuban President Fidel Castro blamed the American CIA and scheduled a memorial service the next day at Colón Cemetery.  Among those attending were Castro’s official photographer, Alberto Korda, and Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara, who was then serving as Minister of Industry. Korda was using a Leica M2 camera with a 90 mm lens and Kodak Plus-X pan film to photograph the event. Guevara only came into Korda’s sight for a few seconds, and he snapped two shots of him, one framed by a palm tree and the profile of another mourner.  Korda cropped out the framing images to create the timeless portrait known the world over, revealing Guevara’s anger, pain and implacability (see image above).  In 1986, photographer José Figueroa suggested printing the original uncropped shot (shown below) as well as the cropped version. The photograph has its own film documentary, Chevolution (2008), and book, Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image (2009), by Michael Casey.

Vietnamese Children after Napalm Attack (1972) – Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut
napalm attack
This photograph, which was taken by Vietnamese-born AP photographer Huỳnh Công “Nick” Út about a year before the end of America’s involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War, put the lie to government claims that American napalm attacks did not affect Vietnamese civilians. The napalm had burned the clothes off the body of the screaming girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc.  After taking the shot, Ut used his media pass to get Kim and the other children admitted into a hospital.  Nick and Kim have stayed in touch over the years. The cropped version of the photo shown above, which places Kim in the center, was the one originally published.  The cropping eliminated two soldiers and a photojournalist dressed in soldier’s gear engaged in changing his film, as seen in the original uncropped print below.


On 9 lists
The Open Door
(c. 1843) – William Henry Fox Talbot
the open door talbot
The Open Door
is a landmark photo by English photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot invented the calotype process, in which multiple positive images could be printed from one negative, which eventually replaced daguerreotypes.  The Open Door, which appeared in The Pencil of Nature, the first commercially published photography book, is significant for several reasons.  First, the lowly subject matter of the photograph – a barn door and a servant’s broom – contrasts significantly with the highbrow subjects that Talbot and others normally aimed their cameras at: monuments, cathedrals and spectacular scenery. The Open Door is a recognition that even the most quotidian subjects may capture the photographer’s eye and offer something new to the viewer. In addition to opening up new subject matter for photographers, The Open Door opened a door to a new aesthetic sensibility. This is perhaps the first photograph in which a setting was deliberately arranged for artistic effect. Talbot has opened the door of the farm building, hung a lantern and propped a broom against the wall. He also appears to have chosen the time of day to enhance the contrast of light and shadow and the view of the window in the back of the room. Instead of treating the camera as a mindless machine simply replicating what happens to be in front of it, Talbot saw the potential of photography as an artistic endeavor, with the conscious input of the artist. As viewers, we appreciate the contrast of light and dark, sun and shadow, indoors and outdoors, and the many textures presented.  We also wonder where the sweeper has gone, and when he or she is coming back. Talbot’s photo was a precursor of pictorialism, the late 19th-early 20th century movement that sought to make photography an art (like painting) by emphasizing the conscious manipulations of the artist over the chance effects of ‘straight’ photography.

Soviet soldiers raise USSR flag over Reichstag in Berlin (1945) – Yevgeny Khaldei
Khaldei reichstag flag
As the Second World War in Europe neared its end and Soviet troops entered Berlin, Josef Stalin instructed Tass photographer Yevgeni Khaldei to create an image to rival the American photo of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. Legend has it that Khaldei flew back to Moscow but could not find any flags, so he ‘borrowed’ three red tablecloths from a government building and had an uncle sew on the hammer and sickle. Back in war-torn Berlin, Khaldei staged flag raisings at the Templehof Airport and the Brandenburg Gate, but neither produced a powerful image. He then turned to the Reichstag building, a symbol for many of Nazi power (even though Hitler saw it as a symbol of the weak republic he replaced and had shut it down in 1933). Soviet soldiers had raised a flag on the Reichstag on April 30, 1945, but it was too late in the day for pictures. In fighting the next day, German troops removed the flag. On May 2, the Soviets gained full control of the building and Khaldei climbed to the top with a flag and three soldiers, where he captured a timeless image of the Nazi defeat. Before the photo was published in a Soviet magazine, Khaldei was ordered to alter the photograph in two ways: he erased the multiple watches on a soldier’s arms (evidence of looting) and added more dramatic smoke in the background.

Vietnamese Monk Self-immolation (1963) – Malcolm Browne
Vietnam Monk
Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was a Catholic whose repression of the Buddhist majority reached a crescendo with the killing of nine Buddhist protesters during a peace march on May 8, 1963.  As a result of the killings, Buddhist monks began to organize protests.  AP photographer Malcolm Browne received notice of an important protest to take place on June 11, 1963.  When he arrived, he was the only Western journalist present as Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sat down in a Saigon intersection while other monks poured gasoline on him and set him on fire. Using a cheap Japanese camera called a Petri, Browne shot 10 rolls of film while the monk burned, then had the film sent to AP headquarters.  The Pulitzer Prize winning shot above was chosen by AP editors, who then sent it out on the wire, from which newspapers all over the world printed it on June 12, 1963.  (Another, somewhat different shot was also published – see below.)  Not every paper ran the photo: the New York Times declined to publish Browne’s shot on the grounds that it was too grisly.
vietnamese self immolation

Afghan Girl (1985) – Steve McCurry
Steve McCurry photographed this Afghan girl in a Pakistani refugee camp.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a young Pashtun girl’s parents were killed, so she, her brother and grandmother walked many miles to a refugee camp in neighboring Pakistan. In 1984, the girl, then about 12 years old, was attending a makeshift school when American photographer Steve McCurry took her picture for a National Geographic magazine assignment. It was only after McCurry developed the film that he realized the power of the girl’s portrait, with her piercing green eyes looking right into the camera. The photo, titled Afghan Girl, graced the June 1985 cover of National Geographic, and became one of the most popular photos in the magazine’s history. In 2002, after the US invaded Afghanistan and deposed the Taliban, the magazine sent McCurry and a team to try to find the Afghan girl. After many false leads, they found her – now a 30-year old mother of three whose hard life showed on her face and who had no idea that her photograph was famous (see photo below).
afghan girl

On 8 lists
Le Violon d’Ingres
(1924) – Man Ray
Man Ray's Violon d'Ingres.
Man Ray (1890-1976), born Emmanuel Radnitzky, was a modernist American artist who worked in Paris, primarily as a photographer, and whose work was associated with Surrealism and Dada. Le Violon d’Ingres is meant to operate on several levels.  It is a semi-nude portrait of famous Paris model Kiki de Montparnasse, with a turban and towel, seen from behind.  But Man Ray has painted the f-holes of a violin onto the photograph, then re-photographed it, to imply that Kiki’s seemingly armless torso is actually a musical instrument.  The title refers to the painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, known for his nude figures, with their long and winding curves. The phrase “Le Violon d’Ingres” is also a French idiom for ‘hobby’ based on Ingres’s fondness for playing the violin. Thus, the photo implies that, while Ingres’s hobby was playing the violin, Man Ray’s is ‘playing’ Kiki.

Pepper No. 30 (1930) – Edward Weston
In the 1920s, American photographer Edward Weston began photographing what he called ‘still lifes’ – mostly shells, vegetables and fruits.  He first photographed a green pepper in 1927, and made 26 pepper photos in 1929.  Weston later wrote that peppers had “endless variety in form manifestations [and] extraordinary surface texture” and he admired “the power … suggested in their amazing convolutions.”  In early August 1930, Weston tried something new: instead of his usual burlap or muslin background, he placed a pepper just inside the opening of a large tin funnel.  The funnel was, he said, “a perfect relief for the pepper” by “adding reflecting light to important contours.”  Weston made a six-minute exposure using a Zeiss 21 cm. lens on an Ansco 8 X 10 Commercial View camera.  Of all the pepper photographs Weston took, it was Pepper Number 30, with its curves and contours, light and shadows, and even a small blemish at the lower right, that has received the most regard. Random Trivia: Legend has it that after Weston finally obtained the shot he wanted, he cut up the pepper and added it to a salad for dinner with his family.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima (1945) – Joe Rosenthal
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
The United States invaded the Japanese Pacific island of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. By February 23, US Armed Forces had captured Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island, and raised a small American flag there. Soon afterward, the troops were instructed to replace the small flag with a larger one. This time, Associated Press photograph Joe Rosenthal captured the flag raising using a Speed Graphic camera set to a shutter speed of 1/400 sec. Rosenthal had set his camera down to pile some rocks to stand on when he saw the raising begin out of the corner of his eye and quickly took the photo without looking in the viewfinder. The photo shows five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the flag. Three of the Marines died in fighting over the next few days. The other three flagraisers returned to the US as celebrities to participate in fundraising for the war effort, an experience related in the book and movie Flags of Our Fathers. The image won Rosenthal the Pulitzer Prize and formed the basis for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was sculpted by Felix de Weldon in 1954 (see below).

The Family, Luzzara, Italy (1953) – Paul Strand
After helping to found modernist photography with his formalist, quasi-abstract compositions of lines and shadows in the 1910s, Paul Strand’s interests evolved toward portraiture and the more traditional cultures of Europe. In the 1950s, he moved to France. In 1953, Strand traveled to the town of Luzzara in northern Italy’s Po River valley for several months. While there, he spent time with the Lusettis, a family of tenant farmers. The Family is a portrait of the Lusetti widow matriarch with several of her eight living sons in front of their modest house. Note how all the subjects’ heads are in nearly the same plane but most of the men are not looking at the camera. Also note how the bicycle wheel is echoed in the windows over the door and at the back of the house. Strand took another version of the shot without the man standing in the doorway but this version received more praise.

Earthrise (1968) – William Anders
earth rise
On December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft was orbiting the Moon with three American astronauts aboard, when one of the men, William Anders, took of photograph of the Earth rising over the moon.  Anders used a modified Hasselblad 500 EL with 70 mm Ektachrome film. The blue marble that is our planet appears both beautiful and fragile in the desolation of space.  Wilderness photographer Galen Rowell called Earthrise “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”  The U.S. Postal Service used a detail of the photo for a 1969 postage stamp.

Vulture Stalking a Child – Sudan Famine (1994) – Kevin Carter
kevin carter vulture sudan larger
Shortly after arriving in southern Sudan in March 1993 during a famine, South African photographer Kevin Carter observed a hooded vulture standing near a starving Sudanese child, waiting for her to die. Carter took this Pulitzer Prize winning photo of predator and human prey that has become a symbol of the despair and misery of Third World famine. When the photo was taken, the child’s parents had left their daughter to get food from a relief plane that had just landed. The little girl eventually got up and walked away after Carter shooed away the vulture, although no one knows her ultimate fate. Carter was haunted by the event and, despite instructions not to touch famine victims (to avoid spreading disease), he regretted not doing more for the girl. The picture ran in The New York Times on March 26, 1993. While many praised the photo for bringing attention to the famine, some editorials castigated Carter as a heartless journalist who was just ‘another vulture.’ On July 27, 1994, three months after winning the Pulitzer Prize, the 34-year-old Carter, who suffered from depression, committed suicide.

On 7 lists
Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt
(1865) – Nadar
Nadar's Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt.
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known by his professional name of Nadar, was a French photographer best known for his portraits of the rich and famous. The renowned actress Sarah Bernhardt was one of his most-photographed subjects. While the much-sought-after Nadar left the day-to-day work to his assistants, a visit from someone like Bernhardt brought the great photographer himself out from his backroom office. The photo above comes from an 1865 portrait session, in which Nadar dressed the 23-year-old Bernhardt in classical robes, leaning on a column, suggesting that she transcends time and belongs to the ages.  He manages to show his subject’s youthful beauty while giving her a timeless look, bringing out her theatrical essence, but also the vulnerability of a young woman near the beginning of what would be a long career. For a contrasting look, see Nadar’s more contemporary portrait of Bernhardt from one year earlier, where he wraps her in dark velvet and turns her head away from the camera.

Sadie Pfeifer. 48 inches tall. Has worked half a year. Lancaster Cotton Mills, South
Carolina (1908) – Lewis Hine
As the photographer for the US National Child Labor Committee, Lewis Hine’s assignment was to capture in photographs the truth about child labor in the United States in the early years of the 20th Century. He traveled all over the US, documenting children working in factories, mills and mines, as paperboys and in all-night bowling alleys. The photographs were instrumental in the passage of child labor laws. Here, Hine shows a young girl in a tattered dress working in a South Carolina cotton mill. Hine composes the shot so that the huge machines and factory walls dwarf the girl and her co-worker.

Wall Street (1915) – Paul Strand
By 1915, American photographer Paul Strand, like his mentor Alfred Stieglitz, was moving away from pictorialism and towards the modernist mode of straight photography. He also came under the influence of Lewis Hine, who saw photography as a tool of social justice. Wall Street shows the impact of both influences. Strand captures a nearly abstract scene of anonymous workers, dragging long shadows behind them as they rush past a monumental structure – the recently erected J.P. Morgan Trust Company building at 23 Wall Street – that seems to dwarf them. Strand’s formal emphasis on lines and shapes, light and shadow, is very modernist, as is the candid, unposed nature of the shot.  But beneath the abstraction is a social message about the way that capitalism turns individual humans into anonymous cogs in the money-making machinery. The dark rectangles in the bank’s facade not only create a dramatic chiaroscuro effect but also loom as caverns that might swallow up the tiny workers passing by, or hide the nefarious doings of the capitalists inside those impenetrable walls.

The Lynching of Young Blacks – Indiana (1930) – Lawrence Beitler
Beitler - Mob_Lynching
On August 6, 1930, in Marion, Indiana, three young black men – Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith and James Cameron – were arrested and charged with murdering a white man and raping his girlfriend (who later recanted her accusation). The next night, a mob broke into the jail and dragged them out. Cameron was able to escape, but the lynch mob killed the other two men by hanging them from a tree. Lawrence Beitler, a local studio photographer, took a photograph of the hanging men, surrounded by the gleeful mob. Beitler sold thousands of copies of the picture over the next 10 days. When Abel Meeropol saw a copy of the photo in 1937, it inspired him to write the poem “Bitter Fruit”, later adapted into the Billie Holiday song, “Strange Fruit.” James Cameron, who escaped the lynching, became a civil rights activist and director of the Black Holocaust Museum. No one has ever been charged in the deaths of Shipp and Smith.

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Place de l’Europe (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare.
French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson almost never cropped his photos as a matter of principle, but in this case, he was looking through a hole in a fence that was not quite large enough for the lens of his Leica camera, so he found it necessary to crop the left side of the image, which was blocked by the fence.  In other respects, the photograph is the quintessential example of Cartier-Bresson’s philosophy of finding ‘the decisive moment’ when subject and composition come together to create memorable images. Here, we see the puddle-jumper blurred in motion, suspended over water and his own reflection, while a circus poster behind him (also reflected) echoes his jumping stance.  The title, which refers to a train station, is echoed by the name on the poster, which contains the English word ‘rail’, and the train-track appearance of the ladder from which the man has jumped.  Within the borders of the frame, Cartier-Bresson gives us the sense of a moment frozen in time, yet filled with potentiality. 

Portrait of Winston Churchill “The Roaring Lion” (1941) – Yousuf Karsh
Portrait of Winston Churchill.
The Canadian government hired Turkish-born Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh to photograph British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he came to Ottawa to speak to the Canadian House of Commons on December 30, 1941, in the depths of World War II.  When Churchill arrived, cigar in mouth, he brusquely told Karsh that he had only two minutes to take the picture.  Karsh asked Churchill to take the cigar out for the photo, but Churchill refused. In a demonstration of raw courage, Karsh then walked up to Churchill, said, “Forgive me, sir” and pulled the cigar out of his mouth. Karsh went back to the camera to face a belligerent cigar-less Churchill, and snapped the famous portrait that symbolized British defiance of the Nazis and made the cover of Life magazine.  Churchill later shook Karsh’s hand and told him, “You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed”, after which Karsh titled the portrait, The Roaring Lion.

Ruby Shoots Oswald (1963) – Bob Jackson
Jack Ruby Lee Harvey Oswald
On November 24, 1963, Dallas Times Herald photographer Bob Jackson was waiting for suspected JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to be transferred from the city jail to the county jail when a reporter from the paper told him he had been reassigned to cover a press conference at Parkland Hospital, where Gov. John Connally’s wife Nellie was due to speak. Fortunately for photojournalism, Jackson, who had been riding in the motorcade two days before and missed shots of Kennedy’s assassination because he was out of film, disregarded the instructions. A few minutes later, Oswald came out and local nightclub owner Jack Ruby surged toward him with a pistol. Jackson and Dallas Morning News photographer Jack Beers both snapped their shutters.  Neither one knew what they had until they went back to their darkrooms and developed the film. Beers got Ruby’s surge, with the rest of the crowd still unaware, but Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, snapped 6/10 sec after Beers’, captured Oswald’s reaction as the bullet hit him and became instantly iconic. The original print, shown below, was cropped considerably to create the familiar image above. Random Trivia: Some Internet trickster has manipulated the photo in an irreverent pop culture parody (either funny or in bad taste, depending on your sensibilities), by adding instruments and morphing the murder into a rock concert, with guitarist Ruby, the sheriff on keyboards and Oswald singing lead vocals. 

Tank Man (1989) – Jeff Widener
Tank-Man widener
There are several similar photos of the famous Tiananmen Square Tank Man by different photographers, all taken on June 4, 1989, the morning after the Chinese government had violently suppressed the massive pro-democracy protests in which hundreds of thousands of citizens occupied Beijing’s central square for several weeks in spring 1989.  The unidentified man stood in front of the government tanks to stop them from going forward. When the tanks tried to move around him, he would move to block them again. Eventually, someone took the man aside, and the tanks proceeded. AP photographer Jeff Widener was about a half mile away, on the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel, at the time of the Tank Man’s protest. He used a Nikon FE2 camera with a Nikkor 400mm 5.6 ED IF lens and TC-301 teleconverter and a roll of Fuji 100 ASA color negative film. Photographs of the event by Stuart Franklin and Charlie Cole also received wide attention, as did videos.

On 6 lists
Portrait of Louis Daguerre
(1844) – Jean Baptiste Sabatier-Blot
Louis_Daguerre_1844 Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot
In 1844, when French portrait photographer (and Daguerre’s student) Jean Baptiste Sabatier-Blot took this portrait, Louis Daguerre was world famous for his invention of the first successful photographic process. Daguerre began working on photography with Nicéphore Niépce in 1829 and continued after Niépce’s 1833 death, eventually developing the daguerreotype process, which he announced in 1839. Daguerre gave the rights to his invention to French government in return for granting him a lifetime pension. France then released the process to the world free of any copyrights or restrictions.  Daguerreotypes were known for their extreme clarity and fidelity to the subject, but were easily damaged by light or touch and did not produce an image that could be easily duplicated.  Despite the invention of the calotype and wet collodion processes, daguerreotypes remained popular with European portrait photographers into the 1850s – even longer in the United States.

Two Ways of Life (1857) – Oscar Gustav Rejlander
rejlander_two ways of life
Born in Sweden, painter and photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander spent most of  his career in France and England. After starting as a painter, Rejlander became entranced by the possibility of making art with photographs. He became known for allegorical, painting-like photos that often combined more than one image and was an early proponent of the style that became known as pictorialism.  His trademark combination photography began when, as a novice photographer, Rejlander had difficulty keeping all the elements of the composition in focus, so he made a separate negative for each element and then printed them together in a complicated process of photomontage.  Two Ways of Life was Rejlander’s best known work. Using a composition that relies heavily on Raphael’s The School of Athens, Rejlander depicts a father (or a sage) showing two young brothers a choice between two lifestyles:  Virtue on the right and Vice on the left. Perhaps unintentionally, the brother on the side of Vice, with its nude women and lascivious behavior, seems more interested than the brother presented with the more refined pleasures of Virtue. What appears to be a single scene is actually a seamless montage of 32 separate negatives, a fact that allowed Rejlander to reassure his proper Victorian audience that the nude women and the men were never in the same room together.  The nudity was controversial nonetheless, and one museum exhibited the photo with a curtain over the left side.  Much of the criticism subsided after Queen Victoria purchased one of the few prints as a gift for Prince Albert. 

Power House Mechanic Working on Steam Pump (1920) – Lewis Hine
Power House Mechanic.
Americans lost interest in child labor after World War I, so photographer Lewis Hine left the National Child Labor Committee and began to work on other projects.  Beginning in 1919, he began to create ‘work portraits’, photographs intended to raise the stature of industrial workers.  This shift in subject matter also brought about a change in photographic style, from the gritty realism of the child labor images to a more stylized approach, with posed figures and careful lighting that recall in some ways the formulas of Soviet Realism.  Here, a worker hunches over in front of a circular machine (which encloses him like a womb), straining his muscles to move the nut with his wrench.  He struggles with the machine, yet he seems to become part of it.  The message is that there is dignity in hard work.

Omaha Beach, Normandy (1944) – Robert Capa
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Life magazine photographer Robert Capa arrived at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France along with the invading American troops.  As German machine gun fire hit the water around him, he exposed three rolls of film as he photographed the men fighting and dying, then escaped to London on a returning ship.  There, an overeager lab technician destroyed most of the precious film; Capa was able to salvage 11 negatives, all of which were significantly blurred. The best of the surviving photos shows an American GI lying on his belly in the surf, grim determination on his face, with the wreckage of war strewn about him.  The accidental blurring of the image conveys a sense of agitated movement and the chaotic intensity of the D-Day landings, and it became an iconic portrait of the Normandy invasion.

Atomic Bomb over Hiroshima (1945) – George R. Caron
Mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after atomic blast.
By August 6, 1945, the Manhattan Project had produced two atomic bombs: Fat Man, a plutonium bomb with an implosion-type detonation mechanism, and Little Boy, a uranium-235 bomb with a gun-type fission mechanism. Both bombs were transported to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean and Little Boy was loaded onto a bomber named Enola Gay, which then flew to its primary target, the Japanese city of Hiroshima. At about 8:15 a.m. Japanese time, the crew dropped the bomb from 31,000 feet. It fell for 44 seconds and detonated at 1900 feet, killing 70,000 people immediately and destroying 69% of the city’s buildings. Another 70,000 people died of burns or radiation poisoning in the next five years. The photo of the mushroom cloud was captured by tail gunner Staff Sgt. George Caron, who was situated in the rear of the Enola Gay. Copies of the photo were dropped over Japan in the next days as a warning and invitation to surrender, which would not come until after Fat Boy fell on Nagasaki. 

Einstein Sticks His Tongue Out (1951) – Arthur Sasse
It was March 1951 and the paparazzi were hounding Albert Einstein on the night of his 72nd birthday celebration at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study.  After the birthday banquet, the world-famous physicist walked back to a car with Dr. Frank Aydelotte and his wife, all the while being asked by photographers to smile for the camera. UPI photographer Arthur Sasse waited until Einstein and the Aydelottes were seated in the car to ask for a birthday smile. In response, the Nobel Prize winning genius stuck out his tongue for an instant, then quickly turned away. Quick on the shutter, Sasse got the shot that turned Einstein from a genius to a pop culture icon. Einstein liked the image so much that he cropped out his companions and sent the picture as a greeting card to friends. This cropped version continues to adorn t-shirts and other paraphernalia, reminding us that even geniuses have a sense of humor.

Bolivian Army with the Corpse of Che Guevara (1967) – Freddy Alborta
The body of Che Guevara with the Bolivian army.
In 1967, Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara was fighting with Marxist insurgents in Bolivia when the CIA-trained Bolivian army captured and killed him. In a small mountain town they displayed his corpse for the press, including Bolivian photographer Freddy Alborta, whose portrait of Che in death was soon distributed around the world. The Bolivian government’s intent in parading the body before the cameras was to demonstrate their might but the photo, with its resemblance to paintings of the dead Christ, only furthered Che’s legend and made him a martyr to the cause.

Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey (1835) – William Henry Fox Talbot
lacock abbey
Before Daguerre and his daguerrotypes, there was William Henry Fox Talbot.  In 1835, he took a photograph of a latticed window at his Wiltshire home, Lacock Abbey.  Setting the camera indoors, which permitted an uninterrupted long exposure, at a point where bright sunlight streamed through the window, led to Talbot’s first successful experiments. Talbot’s process created what we today call negatives, with the darks and lights reversed; the negative above, which is located in the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, is only about an inch square. The next phase, creating a positive print from the negative, was more troublesome.  It wasn’t until 1839, about the same time that Daguerre was announcing the daguerreotype process, that Talbot figured out how to create permanent prints from his negatives in what became known as the calotype process.  An print made in 1839 from Talbot’s 1835 Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey negative is shown below.
william Henry Fox Talbot's photograph of a latticed window at Lacock Abbey, from 1835. This print may be from the oldest negative in existence..

Still Life: The Artist’s Studio (1837) – Louis Daguerre
Artists studio Daguerre 1837
The Artist’s Studio is one of Louis Daguerre’s first daguerreotypes and is an early example of pictorialism, in which photographers sought to raise photography to the level of an art by imitating the look, style and genres (in this case, the still life) of the art of painting.  The daguerrotype is now in the collection of the Societe Francaise de Photographie in Paris.

Le Stryge (The Vampire) (1853) – Charles Nègre
Photographers and friends, Charles Nègre and Henri Le Secq both loved Paris and Gothic architecture, so it is no surprise that they photographed each other on the parapets of Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking their beloved city. Nègre’s 1853 photo, made using the wet-plate calotype process, was never exhibited in his lifetime, but its value was recognized after his death. The photo has acquired the title Le Stryge (The Vampire), after an 1853 engraving of the same gargoyle by Charles Méryon (see below).
le stryge 1853

Fading Away (1858) – Henry Peach Robinson
Fading Away was created from five separate negatives.
A student of Oscar Gustaf Rejlander, British pictorialist photographer Henry Peach Robinson combined five different negatives to create a single print of the fictional deathbed scene he called Fading Away.  The storytelling quality of the photo and the deep sentiment it aroused made it a bestseller for Robinson, who exhibited it at no fewer than five exhibitions in 1858-1859.  But the subject matter – a young girl dying of tuberculosis – and the artificiality of the technique raised some criticisms, particularly from those who thought death was not a proper subject for photography. Once again, the royal family saved the day – Prince Albert purchased a copy and issued a standing order for every subsequent composite photo by Robinson.

Tartan Ribbon (1861) – James Clerk Maxwell & Thomas Sutton
James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish scientist best known for his discovery that light, electricity and magnetism are all forms of the same energy, was also fascinated by the nature of color and in 1861 produced what is believed to be the first color photograph.  Working with photographer Thomas Sutton, Maxwell photographed a tartan ribbon (a Scottish emblem) three times, each time with a different color filter (red, green and blue) over the lens.  Maxwell and Sutton then developed the three images and projected them onto a screen with three different projectors, each with the same color filter used to take the picture.  When brought into focus, the three images formed a full color image.  Maxwell presented his discovery as an illustration for a lecture on color he gave at the Royal Institution in London. The Maxwell-Sutton separation process became the basis for most subsequent color photography.  The original three plates are now located in a museum in the house where Maxwell was born in Edinburgh.

Portrait of Georges Sand (1864) – Nadar
French portrait photographer Nadar took this photograph of prolific French writer George Sand (born Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin) in 1864, when she was 60 years old.  Sand was known for pushing the boundaries of gender identity by smoking and dressing in men’s clothes.  Her affair with Frederic Chopin was legendary. The photograph was made using the newly invented woodburytype process.

Yosemite Valley from the Best General View (1866) – Carleton E. Watkins
Yosemite Valley from the Best General View.
American photographer Carleton Watkins left his studio in San Francisco several times to photograph the remote and little-explored Yosemite Valley.  He carried nearly 2000 pounds of equipment by mule train, including two cameras – one that made stereographs – double shots for viewing in the popular stereoscopes – and the other, a custom-built ‘mammoth’ camera that held glass plate negatives measuring 18 by 22 inches.  The photos resulting from Watkins’ first Yosemite trek in 1861 were made into a limited edition book that made its way to the desk of President Lincoln, and likely influenced his decision to set aside the valley as the first protected public land in the U.S. in 1864.  On a return trip to Yosemite in 1866, Watkins took this classic shot, which takes in Yosemite Falls (in the center), Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan and Cathedral Rock. Using a foreground object (here, the tall tree) to contrast with the majestic background was a trademark Watkins technique that would be adopted by Ansel Adams and others.

Mount of the Holy Cross (1873) – William Henry Jackson
The Mount of the Holy Cross.
In 1873, American photographer William Henry Jackson went to Colorado to find a legendary mountain that displayed a cross of snow. Jackson found the Mount of the Holy Cross in the high Rockies – it was early summer and just enough snow had melted to allow the snow remaining in crossing ravines to create the shape of a Christian cross. Jackson climbed up another mountain to get the best angle and the early morning light and took eight photographs, the best of which is shown above.  The photo confirmed the legend. Over the years, Jackson returned to the spot in an attempt to duplicate the image, without success.

Looking down Sacramento Street, San Francisco, April 18, 1906 (1906) – Arnold Genthe
The San Francisco earthquake occurred at just after 5 a.m. on April 18, 1906. Photographer Arnold Genthe’s studio and all the cameras in it were destroyed by falling debris, so he went to a friend’s camera shop the same morning and borrowed a 3A Kodak Special camera and lots of film and began photographing the devastation. The best known shot is one taken on Sacramento Street on Nob Hill, looking down toward the advancing fire.  On the right, we see a house whose front has fallen into the street.  Up and down the hill, groups of people stand or sit in chairs watching the spectacle.

Spinner in Whitnel Cotton Mill (1908) – Lewis Hine
Lewis Hine.
Lewis Hine’s original caption for the National Child Labor Committee was as follows: “One of the spinners in Whitnel Cotton Mill. She was 51 inches high. Has been in the mill one year. Sometimes works at night. Runs 4 sides – 48 [cents] a day. When asked how old she was, she hesitated, then said, ‘I don’t remember,’ then added confidentially, ‘I’m not old enough to work, but do just the same.’ Out of 50 employees, there were ten children about her size. Whitnel, North Carolina.”

Blind Woman, New York (1916) – Paul Strand
In 1916, Paul Strand took a number of candid street portraits using a handheld camera with a special lens that allowed him to point the camera in one direction while taking the photograph at a ninety-degree angle. In this case, the elaborate ruse was pointless, as the subject could not see either Strand’s camera or the image he created.  As one commentator noted, Strand manages to capture the “misery and endurance, struggle and degradation” in this human being, who has a license to beg and a sign that reduces her to a single attribute. (In fact, many publications give this photo the one-word title, “Blind.”)  Alfred Stieglitz published Strand’s image in his magazine Camera Work in 1917 as an example of the new modernism, which integrated social documentation with boldly simplified formal compositions.

Portrait of My Mother (1924) – Alexander Rodchenko
Rodchenko's Portrait of My Mother.
Russian photographer and montagist Alexander Rodchenko’s mother had just recently learned to read when her son made her portrait in 1924.  His original shot (see below) shows her holding up her glasses to decipher a Soviet magazine.  In the darkroom, however, Rodchenko rethought the composition, and focused on his mother’s intensely-concentrating heroic/tragic face, her working class hands and the strange swirl of her glasses.  Gone are the contextual magazine and walls and what remains is a more dramatic, more universal image.

Criss-Crossed Conveyors, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company (1927)
– Charles Sheeler
It wasn’t long after the birth of photography that big business discovered ways to use the medium to increase profits and improve its image. The image above was created by Charles Sheeler as an assignment for an advertising company working for Ford Motor Company. Empty of human life, the scene depicts the machinery and metallic structures of a modern factory, with soaring smokestacks reaching heavenward, as a kind of technological utopia, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s commentator points out.  Sheeler’s lens finds harmony and dynamic energy in what to some eyes might be a jumble of mundane industrial structures. Ford used the image in many of its publications, but Criss-Crossed Conveyors rose above its advertising origins to become an example of photography as art.

Pastry Cook, Cologne (1928) – August Sander
Pastry Cook.
German portrait photographer August Sander did not believe in gimmicks. His goal was to create social documents that identified the people of Germany according to their social class, economic status and occupation. To achieve this goal, Sander used a large format camera and photographed his subjects full length and facing the camera. He liked to show working people with the tools of their trade, but he also narrowed the depth of field to avoid distracting background details. Even without the title, we can easily identify the eponymous Pastry Cook of Sander’s 1928 portrait by his costume, whisk and bowl. Sander’s eye has caught the imposing figure with an expression that hovers between the neutrality of the humble tradesman “just doing my job” and the pride taken in job well done. Pastry Cook was included in Sander’s 1929 book Face of our Time, which sold well for years until the Nazis removed it from the shelves on the grounds that it depicted too many non-Aryan faces.

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper (1932) – Charles C. Ebbets (?)
Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.
The 1932 photograph known as Lunch Atop a Skyscraper is not what it seems. It does show 11 construction workers of varying ethnic backgrounds – some of them immigrants – sitting on a beam on the 69th floor of the nearly finished RCA building at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York. And yes, they are having lunch. But historians have revealed that this was no candid shot, but a carefully-planned publicity stunt designed to get positive press coverage for the city’s latest skyscraper. According to a letter written by one of the workers at the time, there was a floor just below the beam but outside the frame, reducing the risk considerably. The picture ran in the New York Herald American but Charles Ebbets was not identified as the photographer until 2003. More recently, however, Corbis, which owns the photo, has labeled the photographer as ‘unknown.’

At the Time of the Louisville Flood (1937) – Margaret Bourke-White
In January 1937, the Ohio River flooded, killing nearly 400 people and leave almost a million people homeless.  Life magazine sent Margaret Bourke-White to Louisville, Kentucky to document the tragedy.  Her image of African-American families lined up for food in front of a painfully ironic billboard was published in the February 15, 1937 issue of Life. The billboard was part of an anti-New Deal campaign by the National Association of Manufacturers. Over the years, the photograph has become a symbol not just of the Louisville flood, but of the Great Depression generally.  

Explosion of the Hindenburg (1937) – Sam Shere
Sam Shere's photograph of the Hindenburg disaster.
The German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg had crossed the Atlantic and was attempting to dock at a mooring mast at the Lakehurst Naval Station in New Jersey at about 7:25 p.m. on May 6, 1937 when it caught fire and burned to the ground, killing 35 of the 97 people on board, and one person on the ground. Numerous journalists were present, including radio announcer Herbert “Oh, the humanity!” Morrison, newsreel cameramen and several photojournalists. The iconic photograph of the initial burst of flaming hydrogen was taken by Sam Shere, using a Speed Graphic camera. According to Shere, the event happened so fast, he had to ‘shoot from the hip’, squeezing the shutter even before he got the camera to his eye.  As a result of the Hindenburg disaster and the publicity surrounding it, the public lost its faith in rigid airships and the entire passenger airship industry, leaving only the Goodyear blimp and its kin as reminders of a bygone era.

Sunday on the Banks of the River Marne (1938) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Sunday Afternoon on the Banks of the Marne.
In 1936, the progressive French government passed a law giving French workers two weeks of paid vacation every year, a fact that gives Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photo of two couples picnicking at the riverside a political subtext.  Even though we see only part of one of the faces, there is an intimacy to the photograph, a sense that may be enhanced by Cartier-Bresson’s decision to eliminate the horizon line and the opposite bank of the river from the frame.

The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) – Ansel Adams
The Tetons and the Snake River.
In 1941, the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service hired American landscape and nature photographer Ansel Adams to photograph America’s national parks, Indian reservations and other federal lands to decorate the Interior Department’s new headquarters with large prints. Using large format cameras and paying close attention to darkroom techniques, Adams captured the drama of the natural landscapes in the American West. His photo of the Snake River winding through a valley with the Tetons towering in the background was taken in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  It is one of the photographs included in the Voyager spacecraft for viewing by any extraterrestrials it may encounter.

Buchenwald Victims (1945) – Margaret Bourke-White
Prisoners at Buchenwald.
American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White joined General Patton’s Third Army in April 1945 when it liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany.  Many of Bourke-White’s photos were published in a Life magazine article, but the photo of haunted survivors standing against a barbed-wire fence staring at their rescuers was not seen until 1960, when Life presented it as part of a retrospective issue. Another famous photo from the same time and place shows German citizens forced by General Patton to tour the prison and view the piles of corpses.
bourke-white buchenwald

Atomic Bomb over Nagasaki (1945) – Charles Levy
By August 6, 1945, the Manhattan Project had produced two atomic bombs: Fat Man, a plutonium bomb with an implosion-type detonation mechanism, and Little Boy, a uranium-235 bomb with a gun-type fission mechanism. Both bombs were transported to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean. Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. On August 9, a bomber named Bocks Car dropped Fat Man over Nagasaki, its secondary target, causing significant destruction and deaths, although a row of hills protected much of the city from destruction. Using a 5X4 camera, Lt. Charles Levy took 16 photographs of the Nagasaki mushroom cloud from the transparent nose of one of the other B-29 bombers that made the run.

Dali Atomicus (1948) – Philippe Halsman
Dali Atomicus.
Latvian-born American photographer Philippe Halsman had been collaborating with Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali since 1941, but their most famous production is Dali Atomicus, from 1948. The genesis of the photo was the recent scientific discovery that, because atoms consisted of electrons suspended in orbit around the nucleus, all solid matter was actually suspended in space. Dali began a painting on the theme, Leda Atomica, which can be seen on an easel at the far right, and Dali and Halsman collaborated on a portrait of suspended reality. (Although some have identified Dali Atomicus as one of Halsman’s famous jumping photos, it actually precedes Halsman’s adoption of that technique – here the jumping is incidental to the notion of being suspended.)  The photo shoot took 28 tries over six hours. When Halsman finally got the shot he wanted, he retouched it to insert a painting on Dali’s easel and eliminate an assistant’s hand holding up a chair and wires holding up other articles (see unretouched version below). The photo was published in a two-page spread in Life magazine.

Death Watch (from Spanish Village) (1951) – W. Eugene Smith
Death Watch, from the Spanish Village photo essay.
In 1951, Life magazine sent American photographer W. Eugene Smith to the Spanish village of Deleitosa, population 2,300, which is situated in the Estramadura in western Spain. Smith’s photo essay highlights numerous aspects of daily life for the poorest subjects of Franco’s Fascist regime, including a traditional ‘death watch’, a type of wake for a deceased elder of the community. Included among the watchers are the man’s wife, daughter, granddaughter and friends.  Another popular image from the Spanish Village series is Guardia Civil, shown below.
spanish village

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, Minamata, Japan
(1972) – W. Eugene Smith
Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath.
W. Eugene Smith and his wife moved to Minimata, Japan in 1971 to bring attention to the victims of Minimata disease, which was caused by mercury poisoning from a nearby manufacturer. Smith took many graphic photos, some of which were published, but he decided he needed a shot with more symbolic value. He discussed the idea with Ryoko Uemura, whose daughter Tomoko was afflicted. She agreed to allow Smith to photograph Tomoko’s paralyzed body and suggested the bath as a setting. The resulting photo, which was the centerpiece of an article in Life magazine, brought Minimata disease to the world’s attention and helped pressure the polluting company to compensate victims. In 1997, Smith’s widow gave the copyright for the photo to Tomoko’s parents (Tomoko died in 1977 at age 21) and the family has chosen not to allow further distribution of the image (although it is widely available on the Internet).

Footprint on the Moon (1969) – Buzz Aldrin
One of the tasks given to Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men to walk on the Earth’s moon, was to study the lunar soil (called regolith) in part to determine what acts the astronauts could perform safely while on the lunar surface.  As part of this soil mechanics investigation, Buzz Aldrin took a photograph of the lunar surface, then he stepped on the spot with his boot and took a picture of the resulting footprint.  Aldrin’s experiment took place on July 20, 1969, about one hour after Armstrong first set foot on the moon’s surface.  The experiment gave scientists information about the behavior of the regolith when compressed by a heavy object.  Once made public, the photo of Aldrin’s bootprint took on weightier significance as a symbol of man’s foothold on a new frontier and the permanent mark that humans had made on a celestial body other than Earth.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (1969) – Neil Armstrong
American astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. Photo by Neil Armstrong.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.  The photographer is Neil Armstrong, who managed to capture his reflection and that of the lunar module in Aldrin’s visor.  The photograph had worldwide significance as it showed, for the first time, a man walking on the moon.

Kent State Massacre (1970) – John Filo
John Filo's iconic image from the Kent State massacre.
Kent State University journalism student John Filo took this May 4, 1970 photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway, as she knelt over the body of Kent State University student Jeffrey Miller, who had just been fatally shot by the Ohio National Guard.  The Guard had been sent to quell student protests against the Vietnam War, and in particular the bombing of Cambodia, which President Nixon had announced on April 30, 1970.  Three other students were killed and nine were injured, including one who was permanently paralyzed.  The shootings led to a nationwide student strike involving four million students and contributed to turning public opinion against the war.  Filo, who was working part-time at a local newspaper, used a Nikkormat camera with Tri X film at 1/500 sec.  He won a Pulitzer Prize for his iconic anti-war image.

Fire Escape Collapse (Fire on Marlborough Street) (1975) – Stanley J. Forman
forman fire
Stanley Forman was a photographer for the Boston Herald American in July 1975 when he took this controversial photo of a fire rescue turned tragic.  Diana Bryant, age 19, and her two-year-old goddaughter Tiare Jones were standing on the fire escape ladder outside their burning apartment as a firefighter approached to save them. Forman stood on the fire truck and photographed the dramatic scene when the fire escape suddenly gave way, sending Bryant and Jones tumbling to the ground. Miraculously, the two-year-old survived, but her godmother died from her injuries. The photo, which won Forman a Pulitzer Prize, is credited with motivating the state to toughen building codes for fire escapes.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono (1980) – Annie Leibowitz
Annie Leibovitz lennon 1980 larger
American photographer Annie Leibovitz was working for Rolling Stone magazine in December 1980 when she received an assignment to photograph John Lennon for the cover.  Lennon had just released a new album, Double Fantasy, his first in five years.  Leibovitz suggested a portrait of John and his wife Yoko Ono, similar to the one on the cover of the new album, but in the nude.  Yoko balked at complete nudity, so Leibovitz had a nude John pose with a fully-clothed Yoko. Leibovitz captured John’s touching fetal wraparound with an instant camera.  Both subjects felt that the photo captured their relationship exactly, Leibovitz recalled.  The photograph took on additional significance when, just hours after the photo session, Lennon was shot and killed by a demented fan.  Rolling Stone printed a somewhat altered version of the photograph on the cover of its January 1981 issue (see below).
rolling stone

Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man (1840) – Hippolyte Bayard
French photography pioneer Hippolyte Bayard invented a photographic process called direct positive printing, and, in 1839, became the first photographer to give a public exhibition of his work, but his most famous photograph, Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, is a protest against what he felt was a lack of respect for his accomplishments.  In the photo, Bayard presents himself as a victim of suicide by drowning.  The staged scene symbolized his reaction to the French Academy of Sciences, which bypassed Bayard in favor of Louis Daguerre, a friend of the Academy’s director, in designating the inventor of photography.  Bayard’s caption read in part, “The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. … The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself….”

Portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot (c. 1844) – Antoine Claudet
Talbot by Claudet
There is more than a little irony in the fact that the best surviving portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype photographic process, is a daguerrotype, made using the technology of his arch-rival, Louis Daguerre.  French photographer Antoine Claudet, a student of Daguerre, had a portrait studio in London and it was there that Talbot came to have several daguerrotypes made in about 1844.  Talbot would have the last laugh, however, as his calotype process, which allowed multiple prints from a single negative, would eventually win out over the non-reproducible daguerrotype.  

Fire at Ames Mill, Oswego, NY (1853) – George N. Barnard
barnard fire in ames mills
American photographer George Barnard owned a studio in Oswego, New York when he took this photograph of a fire at the Ames Mills, one of the earliest examples of spot news photojournalism.  Barnard hand-tinted the original daguerreotype, using crimson pigment for the flames (see below).  It would take nearly 50 more years until newspapers and magazines could easily print photographs in their publications using the half-tone process.  In the mean time, however, journalists continued to use the new medium. In lieu of printing the actual photograph, an artist would make an engraving of the image and a printer would then make a print from the engraving that could be inserted into any form of print media.  

Fire at Ames Mills.

Self-Portrait of Nadar (1855) – Nadar
self-portrait of nadar
Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, known professionally as Nadar, was a newspaper caricaturist in 1853 when he discovered photography.  In 1855, Nadar opened a studio, where many artists and other well-known figures from France and elsewhere came to have their portraits made. Nadar made numerous self-portraits, both to create a public image of himself as an artist and also to experiment with poses, lighting and other techniques. This Self-Portrait is from about the time he opened his studio. In addition to making portraits, Nadar was a pioneer in lighting dark settings and was the first photographer to take aerial photos, using a hot-air balloon.

Portrait of Sir John Herschel (1867) – Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Margaret Cameron's Portrait of John Herschel.
To pioneering female photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, Sir John Herschel was not just an illustrious scientist and photography innovator in his twilight years – he was also a good friend.  Cameron, who took up photography relatively late in life after receiving a camera as a gift, was known for breaking the rules of portraiture. Instead of cluttering the space with faux classical columns, books, or symbols of the subject’s profession, Cameron chose to arrange the lighting carefully (here, from the right side) and use emotional truth as a guide for focus and pose, avoiding perfect sharpness that accentuates every detail.  The result is a Gestalt instead of a collection of attributes; it is a truly human portrait – no distractions and full of life. 

Communards in their Coffins (1871) – André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
Communards in their Coffins.
Also known by the more prosaic title Dead Communards, this image depicts 12 men who had participated in the failed 1871 Paris Commune uprising, were arrested and executed, then placed in shabby wooden coffins and unmercifully photographed.  Each one has a number placed on his chest, but there is no reason or rhyme to this apparent attempt at efficiency – two ‘4’s, no ’12’?  It is not clear whether the photographer is seeking merely to document the dead, perhaps at the government’s behest, or whether he intends some political commentary about the cruelty of those who put down the revolt or the price one pays for rebellion.  For reasons that are not clear to me, offers a mug with this image printed on it.

Ancient Ruins in the Canyon de Chelly (1873) – Timothy O’Sullivan
Ancient Ruins in the Canyon de Chelly.
American photographer Timothy O’Sullivan was working for George Montague Wheeler’s surveying team of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when he photographed the White House ruins in Canyon de Chelly in what what then New Mexico Territory and is now in the state of Arizona.  O’Sullivan emphasizes the vast striated cliffs, which dwarf the remains of an Anasazi pueblo and serve as a substitute sky over the man-made dwellings.

The Crawlers (from Street Life in London) (1877) – John Thomson
After many years of travel in the Far East, British photographer John Thomson settled in London where in 1876 he embarked on a collaborative project with journalist Adolphe Smith. Together, they published a monthly magazine called Street Life in London, in which Thomson’s photos (made using the woodburytype process) and Smith’s text documented the lives of the city’s desperate poor. The magazine ran from 1876-1877, after which Thomson and Smith published a book of the same name in 1878.  In the most well-known of the Street Life photos, an older woman sits on the steps of a workhouse, caring for the child of a woman who has managed to find some work. In return, the woman received some scraps of food. She and others were called crawlers because they no longer had the strength to beg.

The Terminal, New York (1892) – Alfred Stieglitz
The Terminal
Alfred Stieglitz had recently returned from several years in Europe when he found himself in front of the New York post office where two different streetcar lines terminated. The winter scene of steaming horses and their drivers restIng at the end of the line expressed Stieglitz’s sense of being a stranger in his hometown. Stylistically, the photo shares much with pictorialism, but the candid urban setting (and Stieglitz’s use of a 4 X 5 camera, which was much more mobile than the usual tripod-bound 8 X 10) prefigured the straight photography movement of the 20th Century.

The Flatiron Building, NYC (1905) – Edward Steichen
The Flatiron Building.
One of the first skyscrapers in Manhattan, the 22-story Flatiron Building opened in 1902 and immediately became a magnet for photographers.  Pictorialist photographer Edward Steichen, born in Luxembourg but working in the US, chose to take his Flatiron portrait at twilight in winter, with bare tree branches and horse carriages in silhouette, to create the hazy sense of a painting.  Steichen experimented with color by adding dyes in the production process – he used three separate dyes, each one to reflect a different aspect of the growing darkness of twilight, to create three original prints from a single negative.

Playground in Tenement Alley (1909) – Lewis Hine
Playground in Tenement Alley.
While working for the National Child Labor Committee, American photographer Lewis Hine not only documented children at work but also at play, as in this photo of a ball game in a crowded alley between two sets of tenement apartments in Boston, beneath drying laundry. The photograph was useful in promoting the building of playgrounds and parks for young children in the inner cities.

Avenue des Gobelins (1925) – Eugène Atget
Avenue des Gobelins.
The sign over the Paris studio of French photographer Eugène Atget read ‘Documents for Artists’, and when avant-garde artist Man Ray suggested that Atget was making Surrealist photos, Atget insisted that he was simply documenting the people and places of Paris and its environs. Atget avoided the obvious – for example, he never pointed his camera lens at that postcard favorite, the Eiffel Tower. Toward the end of his life, Atget became fascinated with shop windows. He appreciated the theatricality of the medium, particularly mannequins (and the confusion of human clerks with non-humans dressed the same way, as seen in 1925’s Avenue des Gobelins). He also enjoyed the reflective quality of the glass windows, which allowed him to contrast the old buildings with new fashion and place the objects of the display in unfamiliar surroundings, here the headquarters of the famous Gobelins tapestry manufacturer directly across the street from the storefront.  Atget also printed a second photograph of the same window display from a different angle (see below).
avenue des gobelins

Satiric Dancer, Paris (1926) – André Kertész
Satiric Dancer.
Hungarian photographer Andre Kertesz came to Paris in the 1920s to join the thriving Modernist movement there. Satiric Dancer, made in Paris in 1926, includes the participation of two other Hungarian émigrés: István Beöthy provided both the setting – his studio – and the sculpture on the left; dancer and cabaret performer Magda Förstner was the model, drawing her inspiration from the modernist statue to adopt a fetching pose.

Madrid (1933) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Cartier-Bresson's Madrid.
Henri Cartier-Bresson bought his first Leica camera in Marseilles in 1932 and it is from that point that he dates the beginning of his career as as photographer. He liked the Leica because it was small and because he could bring it out quickly to get a shot. To draw even less attention to himself, Cartier-Bresson wrapped the shiny silver body of the camera with disguising black tape. He never used a flash, which he felt was impolite, and composed within the camera so that he almost never had to crop. Although he is known for being the photographer of “the decisive moment’, that phrase was borrowed from another. Cartier-Bresson perhaps best expressed his philosophy when he said, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.” Madrid, 1933 (or simply Madrid) brings together an unusual setting – a massive white wall with tiny windows – and a world of children, one of whom is moving forward, while a lone adult seems out of place. We don’t know exactly what is going on with the children in the foreground – are they playing a game? – but the picture conveys a sense that an event of significance (at least to the children) is occurring.

Loch Ness Monster (1934) – Ian Wetherell
The hoax.
The belief that a sea serpent or surviving plesiosaur swims the murky depths of Scotland’s Loch Ness is a fish tale that goes back possibly as far as the 6th Century CE, but at least to 1933 when a series of sightings occurred, followed by a blurry photograph that some interpreted as a dog with a stick running in the shallows. Then, in 1934, a much clearer picture of a plesiosaur-type creature was provided to the newspapers by Dr. Robert Wilson, who asked that his name not be used, so that the photo acquired the name, The Surgeon’s Photo.  Debate raged about the authenticity of the photo until a 1975 analysis revealed that the object appeared to be only two to three feet long, and there was some evidence that it was being towed through the water.  Subsequently, Christian Spurling confessed that the photo was a hoax that he and several others had perpetrated and that the photo merely showed a toy submarine with a clay head and neck attached.  While the exposure of the hoax merely confirmed to some that the monster is a myth, true believers fell into two camps: those who claim that the ‘hoax’ is itself a hoax, and those who accept that the photo is not real but still believe that Nessie’s existence will someday be proven.

Martha Graham – Letters to the World: Kick (1940) – Barbara Morgan
Letters to the World: Kick.
After American photographer Barbara Morgan watched a performance of Martha Graham and her dance company in New York, Morgan went backstage to introduce herself. What followed was a multi-year collaboration between photographer and dancers, culminating in a 1941 book, Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photos. Morgan captured the dancers in the controlled environment of her own studio, and that was where she photographed Martha Graham performing The Kick from her ballet Letter to the World, which was based on the romantic life of Emily Dickinson. To capture the movement of the dancer, Morgan linked four lamps together on a single circuit and gave them to four assistants, who stood around Graham, training the bulbs on her. Morgan then synchronized the bulbs with her camera, a 4X5 Speed Graphic. Each time she took a photograph, the bulbs flashed for about 1/600 sec., freezing in time an ephemeral moment in Graham’s introspective ballet.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941) – Ansel Adams
While driving through New Mexico at some point after 4 p.m. on November 1, 1941, Ansel Adams watched the moon rise over the Sangre de Christo mountains.  When he reached the town of Hernandez, with its cemetery markers gleaming in the fading rays of sunshine, he knew he had an excellent opportunity for a photograph.  He pulled to the side of the road and his son and assistant helped him collect all the equipment he needed: 8 X 10 camera, Cooke triple convertible lens, Wratten No. 15 (G) filter – but no one could find his Weston light meter.  Adams remembered that the moon’s luminance was 250 footcandles and made an exposure of 1 second at f/32.  By the time he set up for a second shot, the white crosses of the cemetery were in shadow and the opportunity had passed.  Moonrise became one of Adam’s most popular photos – he personally made over 1300 prints from the one negative, each one unique as Adams played with darkening and lightening certain areas during development and printing, and updated his darkroom technology over the years.

The Critic (Opening Night at the Opera) (1943) – Weegee
weegee the critic 2
American photographer Arthur Fellig, whose professional name was Weegee, was a documenter of the seedier side of life in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s and a champion of the poor.  In his most famous image, two well-dressed matrons, Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies, arrive for opening night of the Metropolitan Opera in November 1943, only to be greeted by a disheveled, possibly drunk woman who appears to be muttering something obscene.  The attempts of the grand dames to maintain composure distort their features so that, under the harsh, all-seeing flash of Weegee’s camera, they barely seem human.  Years later, Weegee’s assistant confessed that her boss had instructed her to go to a Bowery bar, find a drunk woman (or, in another version, find a woman and get her drunk) and bring her to the opera. Life magazine first published the image in December 1943 with the title The Fashionable People, after having cropped out a line of ‘ordinary’ people waiting to get into the Opera House on the left side of the print.  In 1945, Weegee published the uncropped version (see below) and renamed it The Critic for his book, The Naked City.
The Critic.

Segregated Water Fountains (1950) – Elliott Erwitt
Segregated Water Fountains.
Having been born in Paris to Russian parents, moved to Italy, then having to flee Fascism, Elliott Erwitt arrived in the US with a lot of emotional baggage.  His photography shows us a different way of looking at things we see every day, as well as capturing some unexpected (often funny) juxtapositions.  In some ways, Segregated Water Fountains is one of his more straightforward documents – there are no hidden jokes here.  The stark, day-to-day reality of life in the segregated South is illustrated very simply by showing two water fountains and a man who can only drink from the worse of the two.  Erwitt shows us the man’s glance to his left but leaves it to us to guess what he is thinking and feeling.  It is as if, in this moment, this man, like us, has paused to notice the degrading reality of segregation and he (through Erwitt) invites us to do the same.  Erwitt took the photograph in North Carolina in 1950.

Political Rally, Chicago (from The Americans) (1956) – Robert Frank
Swiss-born American photographer Robert Frank used a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel all over the United States in 1955 and 1956 taking pictures of Americans doing what they do. After all the traveling was over, Frank had 27,000 images.  He winnowed those down to 83 sometimes challenging, sometimes caustically funny, sometimes sublimely beautiful photographs, which were published in The Americans (1958 in France, 1959 in the US). Some at the time found Frank’s vision of life in these United States too dark and his attitude too critical.  Over time, however, Frank’s personal portrait of his adopted homeland has been recognized as a milestone in the history of photography.  Political rally – Chicago is emblematic of Frank’s polemical style: by obliterating the tuba player’s face behind his tuba, Frank is making a visual joke, but on a deeper level, he has something to say about how organized politics drowns out the voice of the individual, and about the ridiculous pageantry of political campaigns.

Marilyn Monroe (1956) – Cecil Beaton
Portrait of Marilyn Monroe.
Cecil Beaton was a British photographer who spent much of his career in the United States, working for such established magazines as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.  In the latter capacity, he photographed many of the most powerful and famous people in the world. Beaton’s assignment on February 22, 1956 was to meet Marilyn Monroe in a suite at the Ambassador Hotel in New York and photograph her for Harper’s.  At the time, Monroe was seeking to change her reputation from a sex symbol to a serious actress, and Beaton appears to have obliged by producing tasteful results.  Beaton’s favorite photo from the shoot, and the one that is most highly regarded today shows Monroe lying on a Japanese print (brought by Beaton), holding a carnation, and wearing an enigmatic smile that seems to express childlike innocence and knowing sensuality at the same time.  Marilyn Monroe herself chose a different photo from the same shoot as her favorite – it was the one she would sign and send to fans (see below).
Marilyn Monroe Cecil Beaton

Assassination of Inejiro Asunama in Japan (1960) – Yasushi Nagao
Japanese political figure Inejiro Asanuma was the leader of the Japan Socialist Party in the post-war era.  He represented Tokyo’s 1st District in the Japanese House of Representatives from 1936-1942 and 1946-1960.  On October 12, 1960, 17-year old Otoya Yamaguchi, a militant nationalist, ran up on stage during a televised debate in Tokyo’s Hibiya Hall while Asanuma was speaking and fatally stabbed him in the abdomen with a Samurai sword known as a wakizashi.  After the stabbing, as Yamaguchi was attempting a second sword thrust, photojournalist Yasushi Nagao (then working for Mainichi Shimbun newspaper) snapped a photo of the mad teen, now being restrained, facing the fatally-stricken politician that ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize (the first for a Japanese photographer) and the World Press Photo of the Year award.

Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City (1962) – Diane Arbus
Boy with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park.
After leaving commercial photography in the late 1950s, American photographer Diane Arbus set out on her own and soon became one of the most recognized and revered in her field. Always armed with her Rolleiflex camera, she was attracted to those on the margins of society, who did not look or act the way that ‘normal’ people are supposed to.  One warm day in 1962, Arbus was walking through Central Park when she spotted a 7-year-old boy (later identified as Colin Wood).  She asked to take some pictures, but was not satisfied with the results and continued to try new angles.  The process was taking so long that Colin, who had been smiling and playful in earlier shots, finally became so frustrated that he put on the grimace and posture seen in the final print.  The physical manifestations of the boy’s frustration – the face, the claw-like hand, even the fallen strap – when coupled with the simmering violence represented by the toy hand grenade, made this photo an iconic representation of troubled, violent youth produced by a decaying and morally-ambivalent society.  Arbus’s lens also seems to see the unrest in American youth that would result in such disparate movements as Flower Power, Tune In, Turn On and Drop Out, and the Weather Underground.

New York (1968) – Garry Winogrand
When someone asked American photographer Garry Winogrand why he did what he did, he responded, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”  This became his mantra; he even had it stenciled on the walls of a gallery exhibiting his work.  Winogrand is considered one of the great American street photographers – it was the act of finding and taking the photos that thrilled him, whether (as here) in his native New York or across the U.S.  He didn’t like the darkroom, and liked books and exhibitions even less.  As a result, new treasures are still being discovered years after his death in 1984, although there is controversy about exhibiting prints made posthumously from thousands of rolls of film that Winogrand exposed but never developed.  The enigmatic photo of a woman in white standing against a store window, holding an ice cream cone and laughing (with a sliver of street life on the far left) adorned the cover of Winogrand’s 1975 book Women Are Beautiful.  The shot, with its joke that we will never be in on, seems to illustrate the “you’re either on the bus or off the bus” attitude of Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

Beatles Abbey Road Cover (1969) – Iain Macmillan
macmillan abbey road larger
British freelance photographer Iain MacMillan, a friend of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, was enlisted to take the photograph for the cover of Abbey Road, which would become the last recorded album by The Beatles.  The idea – which came from Paul McCartney – was to have all four Beatles walk across the crosswalk outside the group’s Abbey Road studios in London.  At about 11:30 a.m., August 8, 1969, Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr arrived at the intersection, along with MacMillan, who brought a Hasselblad camera with a 50 mm wide angle lens.  MacMillan stood on a stepladder while a police officer stopped traffic for a few minutes. MacMillan took a total of six shots, with the four men walking to the right and to the left; the photo chosen for the cover showed wonderful symmetry of their legs, each at full stride,  Apple Records art director John Kosh then took the photos and created the famous cover; Kosh broke with precedent by presenting MacMillan’s photograph with no additional graphics; it was the only Beatles album that did not contain the name of the band on the cover.  The five unused photos from MacMillan’s session have been traded among private collectors for years, with ever increasing auction prices; one of the photos sold for $25,000 on May 22, 2012.  A set of the five outtakes with one signed by Macmillan sold at auction for $15,000 with the buyer’s premium on April 15, 2015.

Horse Training for the Militia, Inner Mongolia, China (1979) – Eve Arnold
Horse Training for the Militia.
American-born photographer Eve Arnold – a member of the prestigious Magnum Photos cooperative – is best known for her photographs of Marilyn Monroe taken throughout her short career, but Arnold’s lens captured many other subjects.  In 1979, Arnold, by then living in the UK, became one of the first Western photographers to visit China, where she traveled extensively for several months.  Using color film (Arnold began using color in the early 1970s), she took a series of photos of young women training to be horse riders in the national militia in Inner Mongolia, a region of China, including the evocative portrait shown above. 

Missionary holding hand of starving child in Uganda (1980) – Mike Wells
Missionary holding hand of starving child.
A drought in the Karamoja section of Uganda in 1979-1980, combined with the effects of a war to overthrow dictator Idi Amin, resulted in a famine in 1980 that killed between 20,000 and 50,000 people, most of them children.  British photographer Mike Wells went to Karamoja in April 1980 and took this photograph of a missionary and a starving child.  He sent it to the magazine he was working for but instead of publishing the photo, the publishers entered it in the World Press Photo competition, which it won, much to the chagrin of the photographer, who did not want starving children’s images used to win contests.

They’re Coming! (1981) – Helmut Newton
newton they're comingThey're Coming, Part 2.
Born in Germany to a Jewish family, Helmut Neustädter (later Newton) and his family escaped Nazi Germany in 1938.  A photographer from the age of 16, when he studied with Yva, Newton lived in Singapore, Australia, London, Paris, Monte Carlo and Los Angeles at various points in his life.  He was best known for his fashion photography., particularly for French Vogue, and his willingness to push the boundaries of what was acceptable.  One of his interests was the contrast between the nude and clothed body, exemplified by They’re Coming!, a diptych showing the same five models in the same poses with and without clothing.  Newton received praise for presenting his female models – nude or clothed – as bold, forceful and in charge, unlike many of the degrading ‘sex object’ images of women in later fashion photography.

Omayra Sánchez after Colombia volcano (1985) – Frank Fournier
fournier omayra sanchez larger
Frank Fournier was a French photographer for Contact Press Images who covered the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Armero, Colombia in 1985.  The volcano had sent a lahar, or mud/debris flow, traveling at 20 feet per second into the town, killing up to 20,000 people and trapping the legs of 13-year-old Omayra Sánchez beneath her collapsed house.  Efforts to free the girl failed and amputation was ruled out as unsanitary.  Rescuers and journalists kept her company and brought her food, but Sánchez – still trapped – died 60 hours after the eruption.  Fournier’s heartbreaking photo of the doomed teenager was given the World Press Photo award.

Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) – Andreas Gursky
Gursky's photograph Chicago Board of Trade II.
German photographer Andreas Gursky trained with Hilla and Bernd Becher, famous for their documentation of industrial buildings.  Gursky is also a documentarian, but unlike the dour monochrome productions of his mentors, Gursky’s photos are large format, in color and – gasp! – sometimes digitally manipulated.  Like so many of Gursky’s photos, Chicago Board of Trade II is taken from a high angle, in this case from the visitor gallery.  Gursky shows us the trading floor without the walls, creating the impression that this organized chaos might go on forever.  He has double exposed some areas, creating a sense of movement, and digitally enhanced the colors, giving the impression, noted Rachel Taylor of the Tate Modern, “that mimics mosaic or stained glass.”

The Falling Man (9/11/01) – Richard Drew
Falling Man
After terrorists crashed large airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, some of the people trapped by the flames and smoke began jumping or falling from the windows – as many as 200, according to some estimates. Richard Drew captured the almost balletic pose of one man during his descent.  When the New York Times published the photo the following day, many criticized the paper for doing so.  There have been many attempts to identify the man – some say he is Windows on the World restaurant employee Jonathan Briley.  The photo was the subject of a 2003 piece by Tom Junod in Esquire and a 2006 documentary film.  Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, a novel, involves a performance artist who recreates the Falling Man pose.

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt (1847) – Hermann Biow
Alexander von Humboldt was a famous scientist and explorer, best known for his discoveries in South America between 1799 and 1804.  His five-volume Kosmos, from 1845, sought to unify the various branches of scientific knowledge. In 1847, von Humboldt sat for this daguerreotype portrait by Hermann Biow, an early German photographer with studios in Altona and Hamburg. 

Portrait of Gustave Doré (1855) – Nadar
Gustave Doré was a French artist best known for his wood engraved prints and book illustrations.  Nadar (born Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) made several photographic portraits of Doré, including the above photogravure, made when the subject was only 22, shortly after Doré had received a commission to illustrate the works of Lord Byron.  As noted by a curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, “Nadar has captured the spontaneity and energy of a young artist on the rise.”  Nadar, who became the most well-known photographer of his day, was just beginning his career as well – his studio at 25 Boulevard des Capucines had just recently opened.  It would not be until 1858 that Nadar made his name by taking the first aerial photos from the basket of a hot-air balloon.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) – Roger Fenton
The Valley of the Shadow of Death, in Crimea.
In 1855, British photographer Roger Fenton set out to become the first photographer to document war with the new technology.  He and his assistant loaded a van and traveled to the Crimea, where war was raging among the European powers.  As official photographer for the United Kingdom, Fenton spent almost four months photographing the war, although the limits of the medium prevented him from taking battle photos and the tastes of the time precluded images of dead bodies.  Of the 360 photographs he produced, the most highly regarded is The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which shows a battle scene, cleared of bodies, but strewn with cannonballs, their density a testament to the intensity of the battle.  Unfortunately, there was little public interest in the photos, and Fenton left the field in 1862.  Some controversy arose when a photograph surfaced of the same scene with no cannonballs on the road (see image below), which opened Fenton to accusations of manipulating the scene.  For an in-depth argument that the photograph was faked, see Errol Morris’s series in The New York Times (
valley of the shadow of death

Ascension of Mont-Blanc (series) (1861) – Louis-Auguste & Auguste-Rosalie Bisson
bisson ascension
The French Bisson Brothers had developed a specialty in alpine photography when they decided to attempt to summit Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, which straddles the border between France and Italy.  An 1860 attempt failed, but Auguste managed to make it to the top in 1861 and expose three negatives at the summit.  On the way down (according to one account), he restaged the climb up, resulting in the images above, in which the climbers seem insect-like in the vast landscape, and below.

One of a series of photographs by the Bisson brothers of the Ascent of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps.

The Catacombs of Paris (series) (1861-1862) – NadarA photograph from Nadar's Catacombs of Paris.nadar_catacombs
In the mid-19th Century, one of the major attractions for fashionable Parisians was a visit to the catacombs, a series of underground tunnels, formerly quarries, that had become the repository of the skeletons of the dead.  Nadar, who had taken the first aerial photographs, now embarked on taking some of the first artificially-illuminated photographs, using a battery operated flash lamp and a magnesium arc lamp.  Unhappy with the results of photographs of human subjects in the underground, Nadar brought in mannequins to stand in for the real workers.

President Lincoln on the Battlefield at Antietam (1862) – Alexander Gardner
lincoln at antietam
The Battle of Antietam, with 23,000 casualties, was one of the bloodiest in the American Civil War. Fought on September 17, 1862 in Antietam, Maryland, it was not a decisive Union victory, but it was enough of a victory to send General Robert E. Lee back to Virginia.  Two weeks after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln visited the battlefield, bringing General McClernand (shown at right).  Also pictured is Allan Pinkerton, Chief of the Secret Service.  During the visit, Lincoln also met with his nemesis, General Robert McClellan (see photos below).  There to take the pictures was Alexander Gardner, a Scottish-born photographer working for Matthew Brady.  Although Gardner’s shots of Lincoln at the front, with soldiers’ dirty laundry hanging on the trees, were good for morale back home in the North, it was Gardner’s photos of the Antietam dead that most deeply moved those who saw them.  Historians now believe that it was the Union win at the Battle of Antietam that gave Lincoln the political capital to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and convinced the European powers to stay out of this American dispute.
Lincoln at Antietam lincoln-mcclellan-01

Hot Springs on the Gardiner River, Upper Basin
 (stereograph) (1871) – William Henry Jackson
Jackson's Hot Springs was designed for viewing in a stereograph.
When Ferdinand Hayden was organizing a U.S. Geological Survey expedition to Wyoming, he selected William Henry Jackson as his team photographer, thus giving Jackson the opportunity to be one of the first to capture the wonders of Yellowstone through the relatively new medium.  The print above is designed for a stereograph viewer, which created a 3-D effect (similar to Viewmaster, for those old enough to recall).  The photo shows the terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs on the Gardiner River.  The man with his back to the camera is probably Thomas Moran, the staff artist.  Jackson’s photos and Moran’s sketches and paintings were an important factor in the decision to make Yellowstone the nation’s first National Park in 1872.

No. 27, Once a little vagrant; No. 28, Now a little workman (c. 1875) – Thomas John Barnardo & Thomas John Barnes
once a little vagrant
Thomas Barnardo was a British philanthropist who founded 112 homes for homeless children between 1870 and his death in 1905.  In 1874, Barnardo began photographing each child upon arrival and then several months later to show the improvements brought on by education, nutritious food, loving care and the gainful use of their time.  Barnardo hired photographer Thomas John Barnes to make these ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs, which were sold in sets as a way to publicize the charity and also to raise funds.  One such pair of photos is shown above: No. 27, Once a Little Vagrant, and No. 28, Now a Little Workman focuses on the worst fears and best hopes of the average citizen: the shiftless homeless child, likely as not to steal your purse, has been transformed by Dr. Barnardo into an industrious cobbler’s apprentice, who will benefit society instead of preying upon it.

Storks (series) (1884) – Ottomar Anschütz
storksGerman photographer Ottomar Anschütz was interested in capturing objects and beings in motion, so he invented a camera that could take sharply-focused pictures of momentary events.  Using his unique equipment, he produced a famous series of pictures of Storks (also known as Storks in Flight) that would prove to be an inspiration for Otto Lilienthal’s later experiments with gliders.

The Art of Living a Hundred Years (series) (1886) – Paul NadarNadar's The Art of Living a Hundred Years.
The September 8, 1886 edition of Le Journal illustré, a Paris newspaper, contained an extensive interview with 100-year-old French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul conducted by Nadar (Felix Tourncheon), the famous French photographer. Accompanying the article, which was titled “The Art of Living 100 Years” were 13 half-tone prints of Chevreul, both alone and with Nadar, using photographs taken by Nadar’s son Paul Nadar.  The resulting article is considered the first photo-interview, a blending of photographs and text that was made possible by the invention of the half-tone process.

An Ancient Lodger and the Plank on Which She Slept, at Eldridge Police Station (c. 1888-1890) – Jacob A. Riis
Old Lodger.
Born in Denmark, Jacob Riis came to New York and became a journalist.  In 1878, he obtained a prime position as a police-beat reporter for the New York Tribune, covering the notorious slum neighborhood of Mulberry Bend.  He documented the squalor and misery of the tenement dwellers and the homeless in newspaper articles and lectures, all of which were designed to bring about social reform.  In 1888, Riis began supplementing his articles and lectures with photographs: he used glass-plate negatives and the recently-invented magnesium flash to pierce the dark tenements, alleys and hideouts that so often featured in his stories.  For ten years, Riis made images of searing power, and then, satisfied that he had enough documentation, he put down his camera.  This image, with an unexplained hand entering from the right, is part of a series of photos of indigent men and women who lodged at the de facto homeless shelters set up at various police stations.  Riis was convinced that these police lodging houses were breeding grounds for crime and disease.

The Onion Field (1889) – George Davison
The Onion Field.
The Onion Field is the most highly-regarded photograph by British photographer George Davison.  After experimenting with techniques that rendered sharp, realistic images of landscapes, Davison opted instead for the hazy impressionism that would become the hallmark of pictorialism.  The Onion Field was made with a pinhole camera and printed on rough paper to create the impression of a painting.  Davison’s pictorialist views found no favor in the Royal Photographic Society, so he left that organization and founded his own, the Linked Ring Brotherhood.  Raised in poverty as the son of a shipyard carpenter, Davison obtained employment at Eastman Kodak UK in 1888 and eventually became a millionaire.

Chronophotographic Study of Man Pole Vaulting (1890-1891) – Etienne-Jules Marey
pole vault
Etienne-Jules Marey was a French physician who became fascinated by animal movement and became a pioneer in the fields of both photography and cinema.  Beginning in the 1870s, he began experimenting with cameras that could create multiple exposures within a single frame, thus allowing a scientific study of motion.  After early work with birds and a famous series showing how a cat always lands on its feet, Marey turned to human beings.  In 1882, he developed a chronophotographic camera that could take 12 photographs per second.  On at least two occasions, he aimed the camera’s gun-like barrel at a man performing a pole vault.  An earlier version dates to 1886-1887, while the above image (or images) dates to 1890-1891.  Like Harold Edgerton’s strobe-flash photos, Marey’s scientifically-titled “chronographic study” also has much artistic beauty in it.

Portrait of Miss N (1902) – Gertrude Käsebier
Portrait of Ms. N (Evelyn Nesbit).
As photographer and subject, Gertrude Käsebier and Evelyn Nesbit could not have been more different: Käsebier was the mother of three, married to a man she did not love, who had decided to go to art school at the age of 37 and become a professional photographer.  At 18, Evelyn Nesbit was already a notorious celebrity: a fashion model and stage actress who had been associated with numerous men, especially architect Stanford White, who began his relationship with Nesbit when she was 16 and he was 47.  Years after this photo was taken, Nesbit’s unstable millionaire husband would shoot and kill Stanford White in a restaurant.  Käsebier was the first woman in Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo Secession group, and she was considered the best portraitist of her day.  She adhered to the dominant pictorialist style,, which emphasized hazy painting-like effects and composition over harshly etched realism.  The Portrait of Miss N. is clear enough to be a useful portrait, but the composition (particularly the gesture of offering the pitcher) and the gauzy overlay place the photography squarely within the pictorialist tradition.  Ironically, after becoming one of the first women to be accepted by her male cohorts, Käsebier split from Stieglitz and others over the issue of commercialism.  With three mouths to feed, and a chronically ill husband, Käsebier found the Photo Secession’s ‘art for art’s sake’  philosophy a luxury she could not afford.

Rodin with the Thinker (1902) – Edward SteichenRodin and the Thinker.
American photographer Edward Steichen longed to photograph French sculptor Auguste Rodin next to two of his greatest works: the Monument to Victor Hugo and The Thinker.  Imagine Steichen’s dismay when he arrived in Rodin’s Paris studio in 1901 and found that the two massive sculptures were so far apart that he could not fit them in the same frame.  Instead, Steichen borrowed a technique from 1850s pictorialists Henry Peach Robinson and Gustav Rejlander and took separate photos – one of Rodin and the Victor Hugo and another of the Thinker – and then combined the negatives in the darkroom.  The result is a masterpiece in the painterly pictorialist style that manages to show us the artist in the form of his heroic creations while at the same time softening the bronze and marble statues to almost human textures.

Wright Brothers’ First Flight (1903) – John T. Daniels, Jr.The Wright Brothers' first powered flight, December, 1903.
Although he took one of the most famous photos in history, John T. Daniels, Jr. was not a photographer.  He was a member of the Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station in North Carolina, which was run by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Daniels and other members of the Lifesaving Station assisted and witnessed Orville and Wilbur Wright when they made the first heavier-than-air, manned, powered flights, on December 17, 1903.  The Wrights had come equipped with a Gundlach Korona view camera with a five-by-seven inch glass-plate negative to record the event (and stave off patent disputes). They set the camera on a tripod and Orville asked Daniels – who had never even seen a camera before – to squeeze the bulb when the plane was airborne.  Orville won a coin toss and made the first flight, first running the plane along a monorail installed in the sand, then taking off.  Daniels took the picture as the biplane was rising up and had reached an elevation of two feet.  The first flight was only 12 seconds long.  Other photos taken that day did not come out clearly, including a photo of the much longer third flight.  

Flatiron Building (1903) – Alfred Stieglitz
Flatiron Building, a photo by Alfred Stieglitz.
Like so many innovators, Alfred Stieglitz had a complicated relationship with his art.  He is best known for his passionate crusade to have photography taken seriously as an art form.  He founded the Photo-Secession and studio 291 (with Edward Steichen) and the influential magazine Camera Work. At first, he believed that pictorialism – manipulating photos to create painting-like effects – was the artistic style, while documentary or straight photography – just pointing the camera and taking the picture – could not be defended as art.  But throughout his career, Stieglitz’s work betrays a straight photographer hiding beneath the pictorialist trappings. His photo of the Flatiron Building – then a symbol of modernism – belies an interest in pure form (particularly the tree) that would resurface in The Steerage and the work of Paul Strand.

Breaker Boys in Coal Chute, South Pittston, Pennsylvania (1911) – Lewis HineBreaker Boys in Coal Chute.
Breaker boys were used in the anthracite coal mines to separate slate rock from the coal after it had been brought out of the shaft. The boys often worked 14 to 16 hours a day.  Notes taken by photographer Lewis Hine, then working for the National Child Labor Committee, indicate that this picture was taken at the noon break, although the sun shining through a rear window barely illuminates the dreary, soot-drenched interior. He asked the boys their ages, but noted that they were suspicious of him and often lied, telling Hine they were 12 or 14 when it was clear they were much younger.  This and Hine’s many other photos of children at work were instrumental in the passage of laws prohibiting child labor in the U.S. 

The Octopus (1912) – Alvin Langdon CoburnThe Octopus.
American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn blends the soft focus aesthetic of pictorialism with a modernist sensibility in The Octopus, a photo of Madison Square in New York City taken from the top of a skyscraper.  The unusual top-down perspective creates a dizzying sense of dislocation; the black paths (the arms of the octopus) winding through the white snow and the phallic shadow of the unseen building function as much as abstract forms as architectural elements.  Taken together, these elements transport this image far from the painterly scenes of earlier pictorialists and into an new type of modernist art that is willing to challenge the viewer.

Making Human Junk (poster) (1915) – Lewis Hine
Lewis Hine's poster, Making Human Junk.
As official photographer for the National Child Labor Committee from 1908 until the First World War, Lewis Hine photographed children working in all sorts of industries in order to publicize the degrading and unhealthy conditions of child labor and encourage the passage of laws banning the practice.  His employer, a non-profit advocacy group, regularly presented his photographs at public exhibitions.  For one of these exhibitions, Hine created a montage of photographs on a poster entitled Making Human Junk showing that child labor took healthy young children and processed them into ‘junk’ – unhealthy young people who could look forward to “no future and low wages.”  Hine then asked, “Shall Industry be Allowed to Put this Cost on Society?”  Some have praised the poster for its powerful polemic impact but others have criticized it as judgmental.  Unlike Hine’s stand-alone photographs, which present the children as individuals without making value judgments, Making Human Junk categorizes the children according to their worth: the children in the top photos are “good material” while those at the bottom are “human junk.”  Perhaps unintentionally, Hine’s poster, in trying to make a valid point, misuses the images of the children it seeks to help.

Porch Shadows (1916) – Paul Strand
Paul Strand.
Many artistic innovations are born by accident or discovered only in retrospect, but Paul Strand’s daring experiments in geometry and abstraction arose out of a conscious effort to translate Cubism into the photographic medium.  Porch Shadows, taken in the summer of 1916 at Strand’s family cottage in Connecticut, presents quotidian objects and situations – a table on a porch on a sunny day – in a way that obscures their functionality.  Strand choses an angle that removes the table’s “tableness” and instead presents these objects (and the shadows they cast) as two-dimensional abstract geometric figures: straight lines, curved lines, alternating dark and light parallels.  Porch Shadows was featured in the last issue of Stieglitz’s Camera Work and represents a new direction in modernist photography, with pictorialism’s fuzzy manipulations left behind, armed with the new tool of straight photography, Strand and others embarked on a new aesthetic of abstraction – sharply focused images of reality, but rendered abstract by the photographer’s art.  Another print of the scene from Porch Shadows, in which the table takes up more of the frame, creating a dominant triangle, is shown below.
abstraction strand.

Wire Wheel (1917) – Paul Strand
Strand's Wire Wheel.
Paul Strand’s Wire Wheel continues in the vein of Porch Shadows; he photographs a common object – an automobile – in such a way that emphasizes the lines and abstract shapes over the practical purpose of the object.  But Strand’s photo shows us enough to let us know that this is an auto, and that glimpse of the object’s functionality echoes the fascination of artists in the years before World Wor I with machines and speed.  The Futurists in Italy were the most obvious speed freaks, but all over the world, artists in various media were celebrating the machines that made them go faster.  After the Great War, which demonstrated the power of machines to cause untold misery, a more pessimistic attitude would replace this childlike enthusiasm.

Vortograph No. 1 (1917) – Alvin Langdon CoburnVortograph #1.
In 1913, American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn relocated to England, where he met Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and their group of abstract artists, the Vorticists, who were inspired by the Cubist revolution in art.  Coburn took it upon himself to construct a camera that was capable of taking photographs of real objects that were truly abstract.  He constructed a kaleidoscope-like device using three mirrors and attached it the end of the camera.  The results were what Pound called “Vortographs”, the most highly abstract photos to date.  Vortograph No. 1 includes household objects and crystal, which create a myriad of reflections in Coburn’s mirrors.  The experiment was short-lived, however, and only a couple of dozen vortographs are known to exist.

Echeveria (c. 1922) – Albert Renger-Patzsch
Albert Renger-Patzsch was a German photographer who was associated with the Neue Sachlichheit (New Objectivity) artistic movement.  His photographs of plants, animals and other features of our world were designed to capture the essence of the subject without introducing any ‘artistic’ effects.  His approach may be seen in his choice for the title of his second book.  The publisher insisted on the cheery title, The World is Beautiful, rejecting Renger-Patzsch’s more prosaic suggestion: Things.

Lathe No. 3, Akeley Shop, NY (1923) – Paul Strand
Lathe No. 3.
In 1917, the United States entered World War I and photographer Paul Strand joined the Army Medical Corps, where he worked as an X-ray technician.  After the war, Strand’s artistic focus changed from still photography to film.  He purchased a movie camera from the Akeley Shop in New York and collaborated with painter/photographer Charles Sheeler on an avant-garde film portrait of Manhattan.  (You can watch the 10-minute film Manhatta here.)  Sheeler worked in the realistic style known as precisionism, and Strand came under his influence in the 1920s.  Among the few still photographs Paul Strand made in the years after the war are a series of images depicting the lathes and other machines used by the Akeley Shop to repair the movie cameras they sold.  Despite the horrors wreaked by modern machinery in World War I, Americans in the 1920s still had a general faith in the ability of machines to bring about progress and a better life.  The idealized portrait of Lathe No. 3 (notice that the gleaming surfaces appear brand new, and not in their working state) reflects this confidence in mechanical salvation, the same confidence that Charlie Chaplin would later lampoon in Modern Times.

Illustrations for Mayakovsky’s “About This” (1923) – Alexander Rodchenko
Soviet Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko made art in a variety of media, including photography and graphic design.  In the early 1920s, he began experimenting with photomontage, using his own photographs and images clipped from magazines.  His masterpiece is the set of eight photomontage illustrations he created for a book-length poem by his friend Vladimir Mayakovsky.  The poem, “About This: To Her and to Me”, details Mayakovsky’s love affair with Lily Brik.  The illustrations, one of which is pictured above, include photographs of Mayakovsky, Brik and their friends, set in a topsy-turvy world in which Rodchenko ignores both the rules of linear perspective and the traditional hierarchy of sizes. 

Two Shells (1927) – Edward Weston
After abandoning his Pictorialist past, Edward Weston began to explore classic art subjects such as the nude and the still life.  His notebooks show an obsession with trying every possible combination of background, lighting and arrangement to achieve his goal of depicting both the physical and spiritual natures of his subjects. While identifiable as natural objects, Weston’s vegetables, shells and nudes take on symbolic meaning through abstraction and manipulation.  In Two Shells, for example, Weston nestles one chambered nautilus shell inside another, creating a hybrid form that does not exist in nature. The man-made construction rests on the top of a barrel, creating a sense of depth, and stands out starkly against a black void.  The non-reflective matte finish of the lower shell contrasts with the glossy polished upper shell, which catches and reflects the light source, as if some bright idea was flashing through the head of this fantastic being. 

On the Telephone (1928) – Alexander Rodchenko
On the Telephone.
Among the new aesthetic theories thriving in the Soviet Union in the 1920s was the idea that art should renew the immediacy of human experience by showing us familiar things in an unfamiliar way.  Photographer Alexander Rodchenko put this maxim into action by photographing ordinary scenes from extraordinary (usually oblique) angles.  He began in his own apartment building, where his bird’s eye view gives us a new perspective on an otherwise banal subject – a person talking on the telephone. 

Portrait of James Joyce (1928) – Berenice Abbott
Portrait of James Joyce.
Before becoming famous for her portraits of New York City, American artist Benenice Abbott traveled to Europe, where, in 1923, she signed on as Man Ray’s assistant in his Paris photography studio. In 1926, after her first show of original work, Abbott opened her own Paris studio and began photographing artists, celebrities and others seeking portraiture. She photographed Irish expatriate writer James Joyce twice, in 1926, in his home, and in 1928, in the studio. The 1928 portrait, taken after Ulysses and before Finnegan’s Wake, is shown above. It is considered the definitive Joyce portrait.

Equivalent (1929) – Alfred Stieglitz
One of Stieglitz's Equivalents, a series of photographs of clouds.
Alfred Stieglitz, one of the great early photographers and an American modernist pioneer, made at least 220 photographs of the sky with clouds (and occasionally the sun or some trees) between 1922 and 1935.  This was a significant technical achievement, as the early chemical processes tended to wash out the sky, making the clouds disappear.  But Stieglitz’s goal was not merely technical.  He wanted to use these straight, representational photos to create the first fully abstract artworks in the medium.  Beginning in the mid-1920s, Stieglitz began to title these works Equivalents, based on the theory, proposed by Wassily Kandinsky and discussed at the 291 Gallery, that abstract colors, shapes and lines were the equivalent of emotions and other mental states, what Kandinsky called the inner “vibrations of the soul.”

Glass Tears (1930-1932) – Man RayGlass Tears.
Man Ray created Les Larmes (often translated as Glass Tears) at a time when his romantic relationship with assistant Lee Miller was ending. The closely-cropped face of the female subject reveals details such as clumps of mascara on her eyelashes and clearly exposes her tears as fake – mere glass beads. These glass tears lead us to question whether the woman’s distressed glance is also manufactured. Glass Tears combines elements of autobiography with dada and surrealism. Itsresemblance to a still of a film close-up reminds us that in addition to his acclaimed work as a photographer and painter, Man Ray made a number of experimental films – is Glass Tears in part a critique of the artifice of cinema?

Couple in Raccoon Coats (1932) – James Van Der ZeeHarlem Couple in Raccoon Coats.
Born in Lenox, Massachusetts, James Van Der Zee moved to New York City as a young man with a passion for photography.  By 1916, he had opened his own studio in Harlem, just in time to catch the Harlem Renaissance.  His portraits of Harlem residents, including many wedding and post-mortem photographs, often double-exposed or otherwise manipulated, captured the growing black middle class in the years between the wars.  Couple in Raccoon Coats (sometimes called Harlem Couple in Raccoon Coats) provides a wealth of data for the sociologist and the art critic alike.  The well-to-do man and woman proudly display their personal wealth through their luxurious raccoon coats and their shiny Cadillac Roadster automobile.  The sunshine truly gleams off the chrome of the front end and spare tire.  Note the poses – the man sits comfortably, shadows obscuring his face slightly, while the woman stands beside the car, erect, looking away from the camera.  The brownstones in the background provide both vertical and horizontal lines to frame the car and also provide depth.  Those who have studied the photograph note that by 1932, when it was taken, the US was in the depths of the Great Depression.  Were the car and coats left over from the prosperous ’20s; Was this couple showing that they had escaped the Crash, or Was this some kind of fakery designed to fool the folks back home?

Interior Detail, West Virginia Coal Miner’s House (1935) – Walker EvansInterior Detail, West Virginia Miner's House.
American photographer Walker Evans obtained a position with the US Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration) in 1935.  His first assignment was to photograph a government-built resettlement community of unemployed coal miners in West Virginia.  Here, Walker contrasts the unholy glee of the advertisements (and the promise of prosperity they seem to hold out, if mockingly) with the empty rocking chair and the unused broom.  A deep loneliness creeps over the photo – the unemployed coal miner is not enjoying the meager delights of his government-built ‘castle’ – maybe he is out looking for a job.  Even the sunshine is ambivalent – it enters the house, but fails to reach the chair, leaving the rest of the room in shadow.

Mainbocher Corset, Paris (1939) – Horst P. HorstMainbocher Corset.
Mainbocher Corset, the most famous photo by German-born photographer Horst P. Horst, was taken at the studios of Paris Vogue in August 1939, just days before Horst fled Paris as World War II began.  The photo highlights his uncanny skill at controlling light and shadow, subject and background to create a mixture of moods. Here, mystery and eroticism blend with a feeling of classical elegance, and over it all there is a touch of the surreal.  So much more than a lingerie advertisement, Mainbocher Corset is a work of art.

Hitler in Paris (1940) – Heinrich Hoffmann
Hitler in Paris with Albert Speer.
Following France’s surrender to Germany in World War II, Adolf Hitler decided to take a tour of Paris.  On June 23, 1940, he drove through the conquered city in a car with his architect, Albert Speer, and his favorite sculpture, Arno Breker.  Near the Eiffel Tower, Hitler stopped so his personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, could take a touristy photo of the three men (Speer is on the left) with the highly-recognizable landmark behind them.  The photograph soon made its way around the world, where it provided shocking evidence of the power of the Wehrmacht.  With Hitler in control of the cultural capital of Europe, it seemed that no one was safe from the Nazi menace. 

Pure Energy and Neurotic Man (1940 or 1941) – Barbara MorganPure Energy and the Neurotic Man.
Best known for her photographs of Martha Graham and other dancers, American Barbara Morgan displayed a more experimental side with a series of light drawings. In Pure Energy and the Neurotic Man, Morgan turned off all the lights in her studio, opened the shutter and drew figures in the air with a flashlight. ‘Pure Energy’ is a whirling frenzied bustle – a dance without a dancer. The human hand, presumably the ‘Neurotic Man’, balances and complicates the composition, grounding these hot flashes with something we can grasp.

The Last Jew in Vinnitsa (Ukraine) (1941) – Unknown
"The Last Jew in Vinnitsa."
As part of the preparations for Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, he established death squads called the Einsatzgruppen, whose task was to murder the Jews, Gypsies and Communists in the newly-captured territories. The Einsatzgruppen shot 28,000 Jews in the Ukrainian city of Vinnitsa in two separate massacres in September 1941 and buried them in mass graves. The photo above was discovered after the war in the photo album of an Einsatzgruppen soldier. Written on the back were the words, “The last Jew in Vinnitsa.”

Marines Under Fire, Saipan (1943) – W. Eugene SmithMarines under Fire.
Life photographer W. Eugene Smith accompanied the U.S. Marines as they island-hopped through the Pacific fighting the Japanese in 1944. During the fierce Battle of Saipan, during June and July 1944, Smith spied battle-weary PFC T.E. Underwood, still under fire, taking a swig of water from his canteen. The shot became an iconic image of the war in the Pacific.

Into the Jaws of Death (1944) – Robert F. SargentAllied troops land at Normandy on D-Day.
American soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, 16th Infantry, Company E leave their Coast Guard landing craft and march onto Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day).  Two-thirds of Company E was killed or injured during the initial landing as they faced heavy German machine gunfire.  The photo was taken by Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent and the original title was Into the Jaws of Death – U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire. 

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta (1945) – UnknownWinston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at Yalta.
From February 4 to 11, 1945, the leaders of the U.S., UK and USSR met near the Crimean resort town of Yalta to decide the fate of postwar Europe.  Each leader had an agenda: (1) Winston Churchill (UK) sought free elections and democracy for Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe; (2) Franklin Roosevelt (US) wanted the Soviets to assist in defeating Japan; and (3) Joseph Stalin (USSR) wanted a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.  By the time of the Potsdam conference in July, FDR was dead, Churchill had been replaced by Clement Atlee and only Stalin would have achieved his Yalta goal.  In the photo above, taken by an anonymous official photographer, Roosevelt listens while Churchill speaks.  Also pictured are Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far right); Field Marshal Alan Brooke; Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham; Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, (standing behind Churchill); Army Chief of Staff George Marshall; and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt).

Weed Against Sky, Detroit (1948) – Harry CallahanWeed Against Sky.
Much of the work of American photographer and educator Harry Callahan involved photographing his wife and daughter, but he was also known for his unique abstract compositions using plants and other subjects silhouetted against a featureless sky.  In Weed Against Sky, Detroit, Callahan reduces a leafless plant to a series of lines and circles – without the title to guide us, we might take this photo to be a simple drawing.

Mine Workers (1950) – Margaret Bourke-White
Margaret Bourke-White's portrait of two South African mine workers.
In 1949 and 1950, American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White visited South Africa for Life magazine and brought back photographs that introduced the American public to the recently-imposed system of racial apartheid.  Bourke-White traveled more than a mile underground in 95 degree heat and nearly 100 percent humidity to photograph black gold miners in the Robinson Deep mine, south of Johannesburg.  The portrait of two unnamed miners was the first image in a Life photo essay entitled, “South Africa and Its Problem.”  The photograph shows the dignity and strength of the men engaged in the grueling work of the mine; some have likened their hats to haloes.

Pedestrian’s Foot, Paris (1950) – Otto SteinertPedestrian's Foot.
German physician-turned-photographer Otto Steinert was one of the founders of Fotoform, an avant-garde movement that promoted subjectivity in photography through the use of multiple exposure, unusual angles and similar techniques.  In Pedestrian’s Foot, Steinert has used darkroom technique to turn most of the pedestrian into a hazy blur, leaving only the left foot and a portion of the left leg to represent the otherwise invisible passerby.  The bird’s eye view composition is balanced by the tree and its protective circular grating, which seem as static and permanent as the pedestrian is evanescent.

Pool in a Brook, Near Whiteface, New Hampshire (1953) – Eliot PorterPool in a Brook.
The intensity and high saturation of American nature photographer Eliot Porter’s colors are achieved through the dye transfer method. The original color image is separated into its primary colors with separation negatives, which are then used to produce positive gelatin relief images. The gelatin soaks up dyes in proportion to the gelatin’s thickness. The dye-soaked image is transferred onto another sheet to reproduce the original color image.  This October 1953 photograph highlights the colors of Autumn in a near-abstract composition, connected with the detail of reality by the fallen leaves, the reflections of the trees and the unmistakable chaos in the surface of a body of moving water. 

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch (1955) – Sam Shaw
New York photographer Sam Shaw had been hired to take still photos during the filming of Billy Wilder’s film The Seven Year Itch, starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell, when he came up with a brilliant idea.  Shaw remembered a series of photos he took of girls in skirts on Coney Island; a photo of a girl with her skirt flying up made the cover and the magazine issue sold out.  Shaw suggested to the movie producers that having Marilyn Monroe’s skirt fly up over a subway grating (using an electric fan instead of a subway train to generate the wind) would make great cinema, and the photo would make a sure-fire movie poster.  The filming was staged as a publicity stunt at 2 a.m. on a New York City street (Lexington Ave. between 52nd and 53rd streets), with boisterous crowds gathered around.  Shaw took a series of shots, including the ones above (cropped and uncropped) that were eventually used as the basis for the poster, and the ones below, in which Monroe is calling out, “Hi, Sam Spade”, her nickname for Shaw.  The film footage from the stunt was unusable due to crowd noise, and the actual scene was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage.  Random Trivia:  Among the other photographers present to shoot Marilyn’s flying skirt was street photographer Elliott Erwitt.

Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year itch
 marilyn monroe seven year itch

James Dean in Times Square (1955) – Dennis Stock
james dean times square 1955
When Magnum photographer Dennis Stock met James Dean at a Hollywood party in early 1955, Dean was a relative unknown, whose first movie, East of Eden, was just about to be released.  When Stock saw the film and realized Dean would be a star in the vein of Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, he proposed an unusual photo essay idea: to follow Dean from Hollywood to his Indiana hometown and to New York, where he learned acting.  Dean agreed and Stock convinced Life magazine to pay him.  Life published many of Stock’s images, which showed a moody, troubled young man on the cusp of fame.  Stock’s image of Dean walking through Times Square in the rain has become iconic.  Dean died while racing his Porsche in September 1955. 

USA. New York City. Brooklyn Gang. Coney Island. Kathy fixing her hair in a cigarette machine mirror. (1959) – Bruce Davidson
bruce_davidson_young couple
For several months during 1959, 25-year-old Magnum photographer Bruce Davidson immersed himself in an Italian-American teenage gang from Brooklyn, New York known as the Jokers, following them around until they eventually allowed him to photograph them in all their unsettling and disaffected moods and activities.  Davidson wrote that, “In staying close to [the gang members], I uncovered my own feelings of failure, frustration and rage.”  Many of the gang’s members eventually succumbed to drug overdoses.  Kathy, shown here with her boyfriend Junior, lived longer, only to commit suicide.

Aid from the Padre (Navy Chaplain Luis Padillo give last rites to soldier in Venezuela) (1962) – Héctor Rondón Lovera
On June 2, 1962, rebel soldiers began the El Porteñazo revolt against the government of Rómulo Betancourt in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela.  During the failed five-day rebellion, Catholic priest and Navy Chaplain Luis Padillo walked the streets amid gunfire to give Catholic soldiers the Last Rites.  Padillo knew that the soldiers on both sides were Catholics and would think twice about shooting a priest.  Here, Padillo approached an injured soldier, who managed to climb up on the priest to receive the sacrament before collapsing in death.  As bullets flew from all directions, Héctor Rondón Lovera, a photographer for La Republica newspaper, lay flat on the ground and captured this image, which won a World Press Photo of the Year award.  Those who can read Spanish will recognize that Lovera has not only captured a moment of heart-wrenching tragedy and personal courage but also a bitter irony: the store behind the priest and dying solider is a butcher’s shop, or carnicería, a word that also means “slaughter” and “carnage.”  

JFK Jr. salutes father’s coffin (1963) – Stan Stearns
JFK, Jr. Salutes His Father's Coffin.
November 25, 1963 was the day John F. Kennedy, Jr. turned three years old.  It was also the day of his father’s funeral. Stan Stearns was one of several UPI photographers assigned to follow the procession with President Kennedy’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery that day.  He and 69 other photographers crammed into a much-too-small space as the hearse and white horse passed Kennedy’s brothers Bobby and Teddy, his wife Jackie and his children, Caroline and John.  By instinct, Stearns kept his eyes on Jackie.  When she leaned down and whispered in John, Jr.’s ear, Stearns immediately began pressing the shutter button.  His watchful eye and a bit of luck made him the only photographer of the 70 present to capture the poignant salute of son to father.  At that point, Stearns knew he had the best shot and returned to the office.  When his superiors discovered he’d left the procession without permission, they were furious – until they saw the photograph, which is now generally regarded as “the picture of the funeral.” (original version above, cropped version below).

Cathedral in the Desert, Glen Canyon, Utah (1964) – Philip HydeCathedral in the Desert.
The Cathedral in the Desert is an extraordinary sandstone formation that is part of Glen Canyon in Utah.  Discovered in 1954, the cathedral and 125 major side canyons were submerged as the result of the giant reservoir (named Lake Powell) that was created by the building of the Glen Canyon Dam over the Colorado River.  Landscape photographer Philip Hyde was instrumental in protecting many areas from the devastating effects of dams and other developments, but he could not save Glen Canyon from Lake Powell.  Instead, he journeyed on several occasions in the early 1960s to document in black and white as well as color the marvels that would soon lie beneath up to 100 feet of water.  American Photo magazine named the image above one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th Century.  Ironically, fluctuations in the water levels of Lake Powell due to drought, evaporation and other causes, have led to the periodic exposure of the Cathedral in the Desert in recent times. 

Mother Holding Her Child, N.J. (1967) – Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus took this photograph at a 1967 Diaper Derby in New Jersey and it accompanied a March 21, 1968 article in the Sunday Times (London) Magazine by Pauline Peters titled “How to Train a Derby Winner.” The original caption was, “Loser at a Diaper Derby, N.J.”  In a diaper derby, crawling infants are placed in a line facing their mothers, who call to the children.  The first child to reach its mother wins the derby.  This child is one of the losers.  Is Arbus implying that he will always be thought of as a loser?  Or is this just one awful moment in a long life of highs and lows?  Arbus’s flash highlights the baby’s skin and spittle, and the mother’s clutching fingers, but sends all the rest into the shadows.

Patriotic Boy with a Straw hat, buttons and flag, waiting to march in a pro-war parade, NYC (1967) – Diane Arbus
diane arbus boy with straw hat
The year 1967 was filled with protests against the Vietnam War by people young and old, but mostly young.  So there is a fair amount of irony in Arbus’s photograph of a pro-war youth, whose corn-fed boy-next-door looks are belied by the casual violence of the “Bomb Hanoi” button he wears.  Arbus was known (and sometimes criticized) for looking down on her subjects, for presenting them to the viewer not as fellow humans but as wholly other.  She did say she was attracted to “freaks” and people’s flaws, but it was more likely because she saw herself (and maybe all of us) as flawed individuals, most of whom had yet to come to terms with their unique otherness.  Those with the most obvious visual oddities – the ‘freaks’ – had “already passed  the test”, Arbus once said, and so they had learned something about themselves that most of the rest of us had not.  Unlike many of the characters in Arbus’s world, however, the “Bomb Hanoi” boy does not look particularly self-aware and there is a certain amount of mocking in Arbus’s portrait.  But there is another layer here; this is not mere exploitation.  Arbus shows us a defiantly uncool teenager whose over-the-top normalcy was freakish at a time when mainstream youth culture was dominated by so-called “hippie freaks.”  While not sympathizing with her subject (she seems both amused and frightened by the combination of innocence and rage), Arbus rather asks us to engage with him through our curiosity: Who is he? Why is he like this? How did he come to be this way?  What is it like to be so unlike so many of your peers – to deliberately choose a life that, in New York City in 1967, would subject him to ridicule?    

Black Power Salute at Olympics (1968) – John DominisBlack Power Salute at Mexico City Olympics.
The 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City took place at a time when the West was in turmoil.  Protests against the Vietnam War had grown stronger in the U.S. and elsewhere; the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy shocked the nation and led to violence in the streets across America.  In France, students nearly toppled the government during the month of May.  MLK’s death signaled a crisis in the civil rights movement for African Americans.  In 1967, King had changed the course of the movement.  He entered a more controversial political arena by opposing the Vietnam War and, with segregation now technically illegal, he focused his sights on the much more difficult subject of economic injustice.  In 1968, the Black Panther movement, which rejected King’s nonviolent approach, was nearing its peak popularity, and James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud”) topped the charts.  Amid this turmoil, two American sprinters chose to highlight racial injustice by raising their fists and bowing their heads in the Black Power salute during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem at their medal ceremony in Mexico City.  Tommie Smith won gold in the 200 meter sprint, and John Carlos won the bronze medal.  Time-Life/Getty photographer John Dominis captured the defiant gestures, which led both men to be removed from the U.S. Olympic team.  Silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia fully supported the protest and wore the badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights during the ceremony as a sign of solidarity.  Despite the outrage many expressed about incident at the time, Smith and Carlos never apologized.  “We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country,” Smith said later.

Untitled (from The Los Alamos Project) (1965-1974) – William Eggleston
In 1976, New York’s Museum of Modern Art took a big risk in art circles by giving American photographer William Eggleston a one-man exhibit called William Eggleston’s Guide.  The photographs in the show were shocking to many because they were so utterly unlike traditional art photography, whether landscapes by Ansel Adams, social documents by Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans, or the street photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Helen Levitt.  The photographs seemed to depict random moments in time – it was as if the photographer had merely lifted up his camera to his eye, collected a few disparate elements within the frame and clicked the shutter, without consideration of the meaning or truth behind the image.  One imagines that Seinfeld character George Costanza would have described the Eggleston exhibit as a show about nothing.  To make matters worse, these prints were in full, lurid color – like a snapshot from a family vacation or a commercial fashion spread!  Without the dignity and character of black & white, how was the public to distinguish between art and trash?  The critics were merciless. When MOMA curator John Szarkowski described Eggleston’s photography as “perfect”, New York Times critic Hilton Kramer responded, “Perfectly banal, maybe.”  Art history has favored Szarkowski’s view over Kramer’s.  In particular, the art world eventually embraced Eggleston’s daring use of color.  Eggleston began working with color film in 1965 but was not satisfied with the results until he discovered the complicated dye-transfer process in the early 1970s.  The colors in the photographs are not additions to the composition but are essential elements of the composition itself, to the extent that the same photograph, seen in black & white, would lack the artistic value of the original.    

Virginia Creeper, Northern Sierra Nevada, California (1977) – Philip Hyde
hyde virginia-creeper larger
Landscape photographers work hard to provide us with the perfect visual documents of what we think we see when we look at nature, but in this photograph, Philip Hyde gives us nature as our eyes really see it, even when our brains convince us otherwise.  According to a published account by Hyde’s son David Leland Hyde (, the Virginia creeper vine that is the subject of this photograph was growing up the side of Hyde’s gray cedar shingle home in northeastern California.  One autumn day, when the vine’s leaves had begun to turn red, yellow and orange, Hyde noticed that some of the leaves were reflecting the blue sky above, producing an almost metallic sheen.  He hurried inside the house, grabbed his 4 X 5 Baby Deardorf view camera, set it on his wooden Reis tripod, and took the picture.  While our brains would normally convert such unusual effects into the more recognizable green (or red) leaf underlying the blue reflection, Hyde’s camera makes no such adjustment, and records the actual color of the leaves, creating a unique palette in which a familiar vine becomes something strange and fantastic. 

Untitled Film Still #21 (1978) – Cindy Sherman
cindy sherman 21
American photographer Cindy Sherman has spent her career exploring the way we perceive humans – almost always women – by photographing herself in a variety of different roles.  These are not self-portraits in the traditional sense, though.  The subject matter of the photograph is not Cindy Sherman but a character she plays.  Commentators have theorized that Sherman’s photos treat women’s images and roles as a series of masks and personas presented either to conform with or rebel against society/patriarchal expectations, while never revealing the true self under the mask.  Each of Sherman’s photographs belongs to one of a number of series, each with its own formats and themes.  Her first true series was Untitled Film Stills, a collection of about 70 black & white photographs created between 1977 and 1980.  In each Untitled Film Still, Sherman photographs herself as an actress playing a role in an imaginary film.  Sherman provides no accompanying text or explanatory title for each image, so we must rely on her character’s face, hair, clothing and situation to find meaning.  Most of the Untitled Film Stills reproduce tropes and stereotypes that are familiar to moviegoers, even though they are not taken directly from any actual film, and they explore the way that culture generally and film in particular shape the way we look at women and the roles they are allowed to play.  In Untitled Film Still #21, shown here, a young career woman scans the big city anxiously. We have seen seen her before, or others like her – we know that she will face obstacles, if she is not in crisis already, and either overcome them or not.  Of course, there is no film to accompany this still, so we will never know what happens to this young lady or the 69 others in the series.  The rest of the film only exists in the imaginations of the viewers.

Basilicata, Italia (1978) – Franco Fontana
Fontana landscape
Like William Eggleston, Italian photographer Franco Fontana found that the dye transfer process, while difficult, produced the best color prints.  Fontana uses color and shape to produce almost abstract compositions, whether of natural landscapes, architecture or human bodies.  Basilicata, Italia (also known as Italian Landscape) is typical in that it reduces the landscape to a series of geometric patches of color.  Specifics, such as what plants or other features are creating the color, are suppressed so that even the patch of blue sky becomes another geometric form.  Fontana is said to have invented the photographic concept of line, although it must also be said that I’m not sure what that means.

Cirio Tree, Granite Boulder, Baja California, Mexico (II) (1981) – Philip Hyde
Hyde Cirios_Boulder
According to Philip Hyde’s son David Leland Hyde (, Philip and his wife Ardis fell in love with Baja California after a four-wheel-drive camping trip there in 1973.  They returned on many occasions, including the 1981 trip when Hyde took this photo of a cirio or Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) casting a curved shadow onto a granite boulder.  The photograph was first published in Tom Turner’s 1991 book, Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting Nature.  By 1981, Hyde was working exclusively in color photography.  He had begun experimenting with color as early as 1948, but continued to produce both black & white and color work until the 1970s.

Untitled #119 (1983) – Cindy Sherman
After completing the Untitled Film Stills series in 1980, Cindy Sherman switched to color photography and abandoned the conceit that her photographs were film stills.  Sherman continued to portray characters in her photos, usually grouping them together in series according to a theme.  Her first color theme was Centerfolds, from 1981, which upended the traditional conception of the magazine centerfold as simply an object of male sexual desire (although  the resemblance of some of the characters to victims of abuse alarmed some feminists).  Sherman also received commissions to do fashion photography for Diane Benson and others, although the resulting images skewered the beauty factory paradigm.  Untitled #119, shown here, is part of the Fashion series of 1983-1984 and was one of the works commissioned by Diane Benson’s Diane B. boutique.  It was published as a black & white advertisement in Interview magazine in 1983.  Untitled #119 is one of the few Sherman works that depicts the subject in action – here probably singing or possibly shouting – with her mouth open, as if she is devouring the attention of the spotlight.  It is also shot horizontally, unlike most of Sherman’s other works (excluding the Centerfolds, which adopt the horizontal format to mimic the magazine spreads).  The black background is also an anomaly; most of Sherman’s photos place the subject in context, whether palpably real or obviously fake.  As Sherman certainly intended, this dark character study in no way resembles the seductive models and poses of traditional fashion photography. It is as if Sherman is saying, Instead of using sex to sell, why not depict the people who are actually going to buy these overpriced clothes?  In this case, not a pouting ingénue but a brash woman of a certain age with more self-confidence than talent and money to burn.

Challenger Explosion (1986) – NASAA NASA photo of the Challenger explosion.
On January 28, 1986, the United States space program suffered one of its greatest tragedies when the Space Shuttle Challenger mission ended in disaster just over a minute into its flight.  In the face of public pressure to conduct a successful launch after many prior delays, NASA had ignored the warnings of engineers working for its contractor, Morton Thiokol, and sent seven astronauts – including school teacher Krista McAuliffe – to their deaths after O-ring connectors in the solid fuel rocket boosters failed in the unseasonably cold weather.  The bizarre smoke trails were caused by the solid fuel boosters, which continued to fly uncontrolled after the spacecraft broke apart.  Investigators have theorized that the crew survived the break-up but may have lost consciousness during their 2 1/2 minute plunge to the ocean below, where they died on impact.  The official NASA photo shown above is the most iconic still image of the event, although AP photographer Bruce Weaver’s shot of the orange fireball of combusting fuel, taken a fraction of a second earlier, is also justly famous (see below).

Tank Man (1989) – Stuart Franklin
Tank man Franklin
In a June 2014 interview with The Guardian newspaper, British photographer Stuart Franklin recalled the circumstances of his famous Tank Man photograph (  In May and June, 1989, Franklin, a Magnum agency photograph working on assignment for Time magazine, was in Beijing, where a large student protest movement was going on.  He covered the events of the days and weeks leading up to the government’s violent crackdown on the night of June 4 and after photographing that brutal night, he returned to his hotel just outside Tiananmen Square on the morning of June 5.  From his hotel balcony, Franklin was one of the few photographers to capture images of the lone protestor who stood in front of Chinese tanks to prevent them from moving forward.  Because Chinese government officials were confiscating all film from foreign photographers, Franklin hid his film in a box of tea and gave it to a French student heading back to Paris, who brought the images to Magnum.

Oil Well, Burhan, Kuwait (1991) – Sebastião Salgado
Sebastiao-Salgado kuwait
In 1991, when the US and Coalition forces removed the invading Iraqi army from Kuwait, Iraqi troops, in a last gesture of defiance, set fire to hundreds of Kuwait’s oil wells.  Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado photographed the workers from all around the world sent to fight those fires and recap the wells, jobs that placed the workers in horrific conditions.  The most highly-regarded of those photos depicts two oil-covered men standing like greasy statues at a well head while oil rains from the sky around them.  Another of Salgado’s images from the same assignment is shown below.
kuwait oil fields 

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (1993) – Jeff Wall
jeff wall sudden gust of wind
Canadian artist Jeff Wall has expanded the limits of photography as an art by embracing the technological possibilities of digital manipulation and by rejecting the street photographer’s dictum that the medium is at its best when it captures spontaneous “decisive moments.”  Instead, Wall uses his own visual memories as well as other works of arts to inspire him to recreate scenes using actors and all the tools of technology.  In recreating Katsushika Hokusai’s 1832 woodblock Travellers Caught in a Sudden Breeze at Ejiri (shown below), Wall transplanted the scene to a desolate landscape near his native Vancouver and created a collage of over 100 separate prints to create the final product, which is a huge (13.2 ft by 8.2 ft.) transparency displayed atop a light box that illuminates it from behind.

Hutu man mutilated by Hutu Interahamwe militia for suspected Tutsi sympathies (1994) – James Nachtwey
James Nachtwey's photo of a Hutu man who was mutilated with machetes because he did not support the genocide in Rwanda.
American photojournalist James Nachtwey won the 1995 World Press Photo for his photograph of a Hutu man who was mutilated with machetes because he did not support the genocide in Rwanda.  The slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutus armed with machetes and sticks was sparked in April 1994 by the death of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in a suspicious plane crash.  The Hutu Interahamwe militia maimed and starved this young Hutu man because he did not support the killings. When Nachtwey encountered him in the Red Cross Hospital in Nyanza, Rwanda, the man was unable to speak or swallow and could barely walk.

Oklahoma City firefighter holds infant (1995) – Charles PorterA firefighter carries an infant injured in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
Charles Porter IV was not a professional photographer but an aspiring journalist who worked in a bank near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK on April 19, 1995 when he heard an explosion, grabbed his camera and ran out to document the tragic scene caused by domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who were motivated by anger over FBI actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas in 1993.  The massive blast killed 168 people, injured 680 others, and destroyed the federal building and 324 other buildings in a 16-block radius.  Porter’s heart-wrenching photograph of Oklahoma City firefighter Christopher Fields holding the body of one-year-old Baylee Almon won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Reporting. Baylee Almon’s mother, Aren Almon-Kok, had put Baylee in the federal building’s nursery that day so she could obtain federal assistance in compelling the baby’s father to make child support payments.  Ironically, in the aftermath of the bombing, some claimed that Porter’s photograph resulted in Baylee Almon’s family receiving more attention (and donations) than others who suffered equally tragic losses. According to an April 19, 2015 USA Today article (, Porter is now a physical therapist living in Texas.

Prada I (1996) – Andreas Gursky
gursky prada
While German photographer Andreas Gursky usually adopts a bird’s eye perspective for his large-scale photographs of landscapes – many of them human-created – the view he gives us of a minimalist high-end shoe store display in Prada I (also known as Untitled IV (Prada I)) is straight-on, though we feel a distance from the products.  Gursky’s gaze appears to be impartial, but some have noted a tinge of irony in the notion that shoes should be presented to consumers with the formality and dignity of exhibits in a museum.  Gursky manipulated the photograph in ways that are not apparent to the casual viewer, thus upending the notion of photography as mirror of reality.  He digitally widened the shelving to increase the sense of the horizontal, and he mixed shoes from different seasons so they sit together in ways they would never do in reality.  Each of Gursky’s chromogenic prints of Prada I is 33.5 inches tall and 73 5/8 inches wide and are presented in a frame that measures 53.1 inches tall and 89 inches wide.  In 1997, Gursky created a photograph of three empty Prada shelves, which acquired the name Prada II (see below).
gursky prada ii

The Power of One (Israel) (2006) – Oded Bality
Oded Bality/AP
Oded Bality is an AP photographer based in Tel Aviv, Israel.  In February 2006, he photographed a lone Jewish girl fighting numerous Israeli security officers during the evacuation of settlers from the illegal Jewish settlement of Amona in the Palestinian West Bank.  The 15-year-old girl pictured, known only as Nili, lived in one of the nine homes that was demolished that day pursuant to a court order.  Bality’s image of one determined person defying overwhelming odds won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News photography. 

Baby Green Sea Turtle, French Polynesia (before 2009) – David Doubilet
david-doubilet a-baby-green-sea-turtle-swimming
Photographer David Doubilet has been taking underwater photographs ever since he was 12 years old and wrapped a Brownie Hawkeye camer in a rubber anesthetist’s bag to keep it dry.  Many years later, he has made a career out of creating stunning underwater photography, most of it for National Geographic.  Several of Doubilet’s most highly-regarded photographs use a split-lens camera that he invented, which has separate focus points for each half of the lens and so allows him to capture images that are in focus in both the underwater and above-water portions.  In order to overcome the light differential between the two worlds, Doubilet works with powerful strobe lights to brighten the underwater realm.  The photograph here shows a newborn green sea turtle heading to the open ocean from the Nengonengo Atoll in French Polynesia.  Like several other nature and wildlife photographers, Doubilet does not date his photographs, so the date here is only approximate.

Southern Stingrays, Grand Cayman Island (2009) – David Doubilet
Underwater photography is hard enough, but split-lens, or “over-under” photographs are even more difficult.  David Doubilet has published many such photos (he prefers to call them ‘half and half’ images), many of them for National Geographic.  This black and white image of stingrays, a fishing boat (far right) and a sunburst shows the surreal quality of such shots.  Taking such a picture properly requires the right equipment, including a very wide angle lens, a dome, and strobe lights.  Other Doubilet tips: make sure both above and underwater portions of the image are interesting, some of the best photos are taken in shallow water with a focal point underwater and few distractions, make sure the surface of the water itself is interesting, and most of all, make sure you have no water droplets on the above-water portion of the lens (  For an equally impressive color photo in the same setting, see Southern Stingray and Sailboat, Grand Cayman Island (below).
southern stingray and sailboat

8 thoughts on “Best Photography of All Time – Ranked

  1. Marc Manitou

    Same mistake again about the Eadweard Muybridge horse pictures: the huge $20000 bet was about a trotting horse, not running horse in general, and especially not about a galloping horse. The horse in question was named Occidental, but the first series of pictures were so bad that they are seldom published. They did make the cover of Scientific American, though, which is the best reference about this matter, wrongly stated 99% of the time.

    1. beckchris

      Thanks for the information, Marc. I have completely revised the entry and changed the photos to refer to the original 1878 12-camera experiments.

  2. Pingback: photography studios brandenburg ostvorstadt - photography studios near me

Leave a Reply to beckchrisCancel reply