When you think of the most iconic photos of the twenties century, what images spring to mind? Whilst there are so many fantastic photographs to choose from, we have curated a list of what we believe to be the ten most iconic photos of the twentieth century and shared a little of their backstories.
V-J Day, Times Square, 1945, a.k.a. “The Kiss” by Alfred Eisenstaedt
V-J Day in Times Square is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that shows an American sailor kissing a nurse on Victory over Japan Day in Times Square in New York, 1945. Whilst the iconic photograph is known for its display of affection and love, apparently in reality, it was far from it! According to the photographer, the sailor was walking through Times Square kissing every woman he could find – young and old! Of course a photograph of the sailor kissing an old woman would not have had anywhere near as much of an impact as him kissing the young nurse.
“Migrant Mother” Dorothea Lange, 1936
Migrant Mother is one of a series of photographs taken by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression. The photograph shows Florence Owens Thompson, a migrant pea picker, who was also a mother to seven children. During the 1930s, the FSA employed several photographers, including Lange, to document the effects of the Great Depression on the population of America. This is probably the most iconic from the images, with Florence Owens Thompson and her family going on to become an icon of resilience in the face of adversity.
Albert Einstein by Arthur Sasse, 1951
One of the most famous portraits of the twentieth century was of a man who needs no introduction, Albert Einstein. The portrait showing Einstein sticking his tongue out is easily one of the most famous photos of the professor. It was taken on his seventy second birthday and Einstein apparently liked the photograph so much that he made copies of it to send as greeting cards to his friends!
Tank Man – Jeff Widener
Tank man is often considered the most iconic photography in history. This photograph was taken during the protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 5th June 1989 and became a symbol of the end of the Cold War era. It shows an anonymous man courageously standing in front of a line of army tanks. Although many people claim to have taken photos of the event, it was Widener’s photograph that became the most famous of all.
Che Guevara, Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda
The portrait of Che Guevara entitled ‘Guerrillero Heroico’ by photographer Alberto Korda is easily the most iconic portrait of the twentieth century. Korda was praised for his ability to encapsulate the essence of Che Guevara in this portrait, along with everything he stood for. The photograph was taken in Cuba at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion. During the late sixties the image, along with the actions and execution of Guevara helped to solidify the controversial leader as a cultural icon.
Huynh Cong Ut – Napalm Strike by Nict Ut
This iconic image became a symbol of the horror of the Vietnam War. It shows a naked, terrified young girl running towards the camera. It was taken during the American bombing of the village of Trang Bang. Many suggest that this photo helped to end the war in Vietnam and served as an icon for the peace movement.
Murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief by Eddie Adams, 1968
Whilst covering the Vietnam War for the Associated Press, Eddie Adams took his best-known photograph. The image showed police chief general Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner on a Saigon street, during the opening stages of the Tet Offensive. Although the photograph won Adams a Pulitzer Prize and World Press Photo award, the photographer claimed by taking the photograph, he ruined Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s life.
On 11th February 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison after twenty seven years. One of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century shows him walking out of Victor Verster prison hand-in-hand with his then wife, Winnie, as people around the world celebrated.
Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch by Matty Zimmerman
This beautifully shot photograph of Marilyn Monroe by Matty Zimmerman perfectly depicts Monroe’s iconic status as a female sex symbol. No other photographer ever captured her so well! The photograph was taken as Monroe posed over a Manhattan subway vent whilst playing her character in The Seven Year Itch. It shows the actress laughing as the warm air below causes her skirt to blow up.
The most debated and controversial photograph of the twentieth century has to be the moon landing. Many people doubted the authenticity of the photograph and have come up with numerous suggestions of how it could have been faked, though none of the accusations have ever been proved correct. Those who believed in the event see the photograph as a symbol of accomplishment and achievement by the human race, sending a man to the moon, even though it was deemed impossible.