Photography is, in many ways, the art of capturing and recording individual and collective history. With our unreliable memories, pictures are not just practical, but vital for recollecting and remembering those special moments or people in our lives.
Photographs have a remarkable quality in that they reveal reality as it is. Symmetry and shadows, shapes and actions, emotions and beliefs – all of them have been in the center of attention, and no other technology has had such a long relationship with mankind’s true nature as photography has had. The collection of photographs that will be presented below is proof of how much a picture can influence the way we perceive the world as it is today.
1. “Nagasaki” – unknown photographer
This photograph was taken on the day when the second atomic bomb was launched by the American troops. Although, the name of the photographer is unknown, we can easily infer that it was probably taken by a bystander citizen who was some 100 miles away from Nagasaki. We can see the famous mushroom cloud steadily rising above the ground while a wide circle of dust and debris swirls around it. Today, we know that that cloud rose about 18 kilometers above the bomb’s hypo-center and that it killed everything alive within a mile’s distance, even the insects.
2. “Flower Power”by Bernie Boston
The Flower Power Movement marks America’s 1960’s and early 1970’s as the hippie era, when women’s emancipation and Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” changed society forever. Specifically, this photograph was taken on October 22nd, 1967, during an anti-Vietnam War march. As you can observe, the protester had fearlessly approached the soldiers’ rifles and is seen placing a flower in one of the barrels. The contrasting sides, on the left the soldiers – embodying power and war – and on the right the demonstrators – embodying courage, peace and beauty of life -, have a remarkable effect on the viewer. It is of no surprise that this iconic photo earned photojournalist, Bernie Boston, the Pulitzer Prize.
3. “Burning Monk” by Malcolm W. Browne
The story behind this photograph starts with the war in Vietnam, the unbearable living conditions, the communist government, and the unending massacres and suffering. In the spring of 1963 the Buddhist priests together with other monks and nuns, decided that peaceful and silent protesting for religious equality is no longer an option. The decision that they took at that time lead to the following events: on the fatal day of 11th of June, 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc is engulfed by flames in the middle of the street as a sign of protest. Malcolm W. Browne was the only reporter on the scene. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 for documenting this event.
4. “General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon” by Edward Adams
This photograph is also taken during the Vietnam War period and it depicts the shooting of a Viet Cog prisoner right when it happened on the 1st of February, 1968. There are also two other pictures made public: one with the scene before the shooting, with the general walking next to the prisoner while interrogating him, and another after the incident. It was later found out that the Viet Cog was sentenced to death after he had killed several Americans. By taking this picture, Edward Adams did irreparable damage to General Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s career and honor, although the “bad guy” in this scene is not the shooter, but the prisoner.
5. “Buchenwald” – unknown photographer
Today the world knows that the Buchenwald concentration camp was one of the first and the largest camp established on German soil at Hitler’s command. As the picture obviously shows, the primary cause of death amongst the prisoners was starvation due to very harsh living conditions. But many others were literally worked to death. In the background, American senator, Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, is seen looking at the mountain of corpses as he was inspecting the concentration camp after the fall of the Nazi regime. While being both shocking and horrifying, this picture stands proof to the atrocities that humankind is capable of. It was taken by a photographer that preferred to keep his identity anonymous.
If there is anything that we can learn from these pictures, that is never to repeat history.