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The 52 Most Influential Photographs
August 4, 2007 4:36 AM   Subscribe

52 Influential Photographs: From the oldest survivng photograph, to images of revolution, misery, beauty and humility, to...goatse and LOLCAT? You win some, you lose some, I guess.
posted by Jimbob (68 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lolcats were well underway before the I Can Has Cheezburger? image showed up.
posted by grouse at 4:54 AM on August 4, 2007


The featured cat, Happycat, is older than time itself, however. Some say Happycat created time.

But before I get carried away: this was a beautiful and impressive set of photographs. I am sure people will want to debate some of the choices, but I hadn't seen most of these before, and it's really amazing to see how far we've come. It's so easy to forget that we have pictures of the 19th century. It's so easy to forget a lot of things. Visuals are so evocative.
posted by blacklite at 4:57 AM on August 4, 2007


O RLY?
posted by Poolio at 5:03 AM on August 4, 2007


goatse is "emblematic of the Internet underground and the revolution against corporate control enabled by the democratization of the Internet"? Really? I just thought it was some asshole.
posted by googly at 5:30 AM on August 4, 2007 [7 favorites]


Excellent collection - thanks for sharing!
posted by homodigitalis at 5:40 AM on August 4, 2007


Would've liked to see the 1000-yard stare and The Photojournalist, but I enjoyed the list. Thanks!
posted by sciurus at 5:56 AM on August 4, 2007


Interesting post; I have always enjoyed photography but never considered myself an expert; I was surprised at how many of these images I was familiar with. I have even been to the Tetons where I attempted to duplicate Ansel Adams's photograph, but mine didn't turn out as nice. I was surprised that the Gursky photo (which I wasn't familiar with) was the most expensive, but wikipedia confirms it, along with the fact that the Steichen photo in the list is the second most expensive. Unfortunately some of his other facts are in error; along with some noted in the comments I noted that Nilsson's fetus picture was not captured with an endoscope as noted in the caption (although many of Nilsson's images are), kwashiorkor (the Biafra photograh) is more properly described as protein-calorie malnutrition than "a muscle-wasting disease", and the Lenna image was cropped from a centerfold, not the cover (and as such it shouldn't be too hard to find out who the photographer is rather than "unknown"). Still, aside from the standard criticism that these lists are subjective and arbitrary it is nice to see and discuss some important photographs (I notice he didn't describe them as the most important in his blog). One interesting bit of trivia I noticed-Robert Capa is in there twice.
posted by TedW at 5:56 AM on August 4, 2007


Ha! it took me all of 5 minutes to find out Dwight Hooker photographed Lenna.
posted by TedW at 6:00 AM on August 4, 2007


Andreas Gursky - 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001)

Seems like something out of a Don Delillo novel. Perhaps White Noise
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 6:17 AM on August 4, 2007


FAIL
posted by eriko at 6:34 AM on August 4, 2007


Pretty cool.

FAIL

Stimulating. Tell me more.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:43 AM on August 4, 2007


Is a still frame from a film considered a photograph?

And some of those captions are just middle school-esque painful.

Still, there were a few pics I haven't seen before. Especially the first few.
posted by Cyrano at 6:52 AM on August 4, 2007


I'm surprised Kevin Carter's picture didn't make the cut.

"The sound of soft, high-pitched whimpering near the village of Ayod attracted Carter to a young emaciated Sudanese toddler. The girl had stopped to rest while struggling to a feeding center, wherein a seemingly well-fed vulture had landed nearby. He said that he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn't. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away."
posted by mrbill at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


The "I Can Has Cheezburger" image is the least inspired and most inane of all the LOLCATs. The launch of icanhascheezburger.com, capitalizing on what is not theirs and butchering the beautiful LOLCAT syntax, would have killed the meme if not for the wondrous power of the kitten.


AMIRITE?
posted by null terminated at 7:19 AM on August 4, 2007


And some of those captions are just middle school-esque painful.

The blacks!
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:26 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised Kevin Carter's picture didn't make the cut.

It was probably number 53.

I would have included Diane Arbus's Twins.
posted by TedW at 7:26 AM on August 4, 2007


Not Even Doom Music could convince me that Happycat deserves to be on that list.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 7:37 AM on August 4, 2007


sciurus I would like to see the 1000-yard stare too. Google search turns up hundreds. Can you post the original?
posted by nax at 7:48 AM on August 4, 2007


LOLCATS and Goatse up there with Capa, Curtis, Steichen, Hine, Lang, etc....

Please kill me now. If that's what the internet age is going to be represented by I'd rather just forget it ever happened.
posted by photoslob at 7:57 AM on August 4, 2007


The list seems rather capricious - some were genuinely influential in effecting social or political change, some were merely memorable as images, and some memorable as photographic achievements. Some, such as LOLCAT, were representative of fads. Interesting but not very well thought out; to say that one photo "turned public opinion against the Vietnam war" is pure distortion.
posted by QuietDesperation at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2007


I would like to see the 1000-yard stare too. Google search turns up hundreds. Can you post the original?

Is this it?
posted by JT at 8:04 AM on August 4, 2007


Please kill me now. If that's what the internet age is going to be represented by I'd rather just forget it ever happened.

Don't be dramatic. It's just recentism. Also, it's the I CAN HAZ picture because it's *iconic* for the LOLCAT meme - as well as the name of the best-known website - not because it's necessarily the best one.

Look, 9/11 is in there, right? In 10 years it will still be, and LOLCAT will have been replaced with that stupid HIBRYD HIBRYD meme of 2016.

Oh shit I've said too much ++++ATH0 NO CARRIER
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Goatse is influential? Does it mean that anus enlargement has become a noteworthy occupation for a significant number of the world population? Are there statistics like "According to Pew Research Center, the average diameter of american anuses in 2007 reached 10.3 inches, marking a 90% increase since the last survey from 1989. Chinese anuses, however, gained a modest 0.2 inches during the same period. Analysts explain the difference by the fact that on-line exposure to Goatse is still too recent in China to have had a significant effect" ?
posted by elgilito at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, it means that it's iconic.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:14 AM on August 4, 2007


Cyrano: Is a still frame from a film considered a photograph?

I think they dutifully made that connection with The Horse in Motion.

Nice collection of 'graphs. The captions really seal the deal for me though.
The Wright brothers realize the ancient human dream of flight.

Pure joy

This portrait of a hero is now an icon for humility and nonviolence.

Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph turned public opinion against the Vietnam war.

...earth from the surface of the moon.

This captioned photo of a cute cat launched an online fad.
posted by carsonb at 8:18 AM on August 4, 2007


The featured cat, Happycat, is older than time itself, however. Some say Happycat created time.

However, we should not forget that one fateful day...
posted by samsara at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2007


Aren't they all LOLs of one kind or another?

O HAI I UPGRADED YOUR ANUS
MAH ZEPPELIN!
GOIN TO THE SKY BRB
GOD SPEED MOON MEN
U CAN HAS CLUB
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2007 [7 favorites]


carsonb, I wouldn't call A Horse In Motion a film.

And I believe the two forms are distinct.
posted by ageispolis at 8:36 AM on August 4, 2007


I have even been to the Tetons where I attempted to duplicate Ansel Adams's photograph, but mine didn't turn out as nice.

TedW: Park lore is that it's actual impossible to duplicate Ansel's photograph exactly as Ansel had a rather unusual vantage: he built a large scaffold to take that shot. Since that location is now an Official Scenic Viewpoint, I'm sure the NPS would have a fit if anybody tried the same. So lots of people try from the ground, knowing that's the spot where he took it, completely unaware he actually took it quite higher than their viewpoint.

And the being an amazing photographer probably helped a little too.
posted by barchan at 8:39 AM on August 4, 2007


This is Frank Johnson's 1000-yard stare (kinda small, sorry) and this is a great story about it.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:42 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Enjoyed those, particularly the earliest ones.

Adding to the mix: Kent State, 1970, first X-ray, Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Pigeon House and Barn 1827, Hazel Bryant, desegregation, the original Marlboro man, Nagasaki 1945, Anne Frank 1941 all from 100 photos that changed the world.
posted by nickyskye at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I had no idea Grace was a photograph. I always thought it was a painting.
posted by Demogorgon at 8:46 AM on August 4, 2007


How can a photo be worth 2 million dollars?
Weirdness of art world spending?
Some special circumstance?
Someone really liked it?
That's a stunning amount of money for a photo.
posted by PHINC at 8:46 AM on August 4, 2007


I think that James Nachtwey needs to be mentioned in this thread.

Thanks for this; I hadn't seen a few of these in a while.
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:52 AM on August 4, 2007


It's the display of the photo. According to wiki, it's a large piece, digitally manipulated and hyper=detailed.
posted by empath at 9:10 AM on August 4, 2007


Art theorists love Gursky's work because he gives them so much to get their teeth into in debates about the representation of reality. In his shots of a discount store, 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001), which this month sold for £1.7million (a record for any photograph sold at auction), he photographed the shelves of goods separately, and then put them back together with digital manipulation in post-production. 'The view I created in 99 Cent does exist in reality, but you'd have to destroy the wall of the store to photograph it,' he says.

- Wallpaper

Cool. Still, though. That's a buttload of dough.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:13 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fashion
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:17 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


I would have included Diane Arbus's Twins.

Come play with us, Danny... Forever and ever and ever and ever...
posted by jonp72 at 9:42 AM on August 4, 2007


I'm surprised it doesn't have those Russian 3-color photos.
posted by delmoi at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2007


Various - 2001 Terrorist Attacks (2001)

How does that qualify as a "Best Picture"? Give me a break. Do we just need to include "OMG HOLY FUCKING SHIT 9/11!" in every list that will ever be made of anything from now on?

It wasn't a photograph that made 9/11 interesting or important, and there was no particularly iconic photo that has stood out as The One 9/11 Photo. Or, if there is one that I am unaware of, it certainly isn't that video still taken from CNN.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


ageispolis: carsonb, I wouldn't call A Horse In Motion a film.

Then you and I are on the same page. I was making the point that A Horse In Motion is a good example why a frame of film can be considered an influential photograph. It is a good reference for noting the relationship between photography and film.

Meatbomb: How does that qualify as a "Best Picture"?

I don't think they made any claims of "Best Picture." 52 Influential Photographs is the title of the link; the "Most" is an editorial add to the title of this thread. No superlatives there, just a list of some influential pictures.
posted by carsonb at 10:45 AM on August 4, 2007


I vote for this, along with the collapsing towers, as the iconic 911 photo.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:45 AM on August 4, 2007


I think Falling Man (previously) might qualify as an iconic 9/11 photograph.

Thanks for the Nachtwey link, chuckdarwin - I think he's amazing.
posted by naoko at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2007


And CunningLinguist beat me to it. Damn.
posted by naoko at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2007


Damn. Remember when photographs of brutality would actually sway public opinion against a war?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:02 AM on August 4, 2007


OK, but even so, the photos were reportage, and not particularly influential in and of themselves. Compare to the Biafra, VC execution, and Vietnam napalm photos for what I'm talking about.

"Nobody really cared about 9/11 until these INCREDIBLY INFLUENTIAL PHOTOS shed light on the hidden tragedy"
posted by Meatbomb at 11:03 AM on August 4, 2007


You're changing the argument. You said there was no iconic photo. I'm disagreeing with that.

I'm not saying photos made people care about it. Then again, how different would the reaction to 911 have been if there had been no videos and photos?
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:09 AM on August 4, 2007


I'm actually not trying to argue at all, my beloved sister, and I suppose the falling man photo is pretty iconic. They should have included that one instead, and I would still say that the photo itself wasn't influential.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:21 AM on August 4, 2007


Then again, how different would the reaction to 911 have been if there had been no videos and photos?

Well, I guess for there to be no photos / videos, they wouldn't have been able to conduct the attack in the middle of the most important city in the world. So yeah, I guess if they did the attack in the middle of the frozen tundra somewhere in Siberia or Northern Canada, the reaction would have been different.

But I guess I'm arguing now, so apologies for that.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:25 AM on August 4, 2007


Where's the one of the angry white guy using the flagpole and the American flag as a weapon on a business-suited black guy during a protest?
posted by Brian B. at 11:58 AM on August 4, 2007


I think in recent history, the woman in the mask from the July 2005 London bombings had an impact on me. It's so surreal.
posted by daninnj at 12:29 PM on August 4, 2007


In Bovey, MN, there's a tiny version of Grace on the street signs. It's great. There's also a museum dedicated almost entirely to the photo.

I'm trying to remember, but as I recall, the guy in the picture stopped by the photographer's house as a shoe salesman or something of the sort. The photographer thought he had an interesting look and asked if he could take some pictures of him.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:51 PM on August 4, 2007


I'm going to be a voice of dissent, I thought the list was pretty damn amazing. If I were asked to put something like this together, I would have chosen a lot of the same pictures.

Though I was unfamiliar with Red Hawk at an Oasis in the Badlands which I found to be beautiful.

They might not be the best pictures (though in some cases, I believe they are) they are images that influenced people.
posted by quin at 1:35 PM on August 4, 2007


I think David Turnley's image from Iraq pt I should also be mentioned.
posted by photoslob at 2:35 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree with most of the choices, but of course, would have done it differently. I think 52 is too small of a number really, as it leaves out many equally influential photographers. No Oklahoma dustbowl 1936? (#13 on the page) No Edward Weston? No Fox Talbot? Also, there are other Ansel Adams shots I'd have picked over that one, and Korda's Ché Guevara should be much nearer the top. It's arguable that it is actually the most reproduced photo ever, though nobody knows, since they're 99% bootlegs.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:11 PM on August 4, 2007


Ah, ignore my comment about Ché -- I just noticed the list was chronological.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:19 PM on August 4, 2007


Disclosure; I know the captions are shitty, but they're pretty much to the same standard as all the "17 Way To Improve Your Life With A Toilet Plunger" and "21 Things You Never Knew About Jello" sites that turn up on Digg or del.icio.us these days. I thought the cool photos overcame any deficiencies in the writing. And I couldn't not post something that describes goatse as: emblematic of the Internet underground and the revolution against corporate control enabled by the democratization of the Internet.
posted by Jimbob at 3:20 PM on August 4, 2007


I was born the same day that the photograph was taken of Kim Phuc and the other Vietnamese children fleeing the Napalm attack. I think about that picture on each birthday.

My father was in the Air Force. On the same day that I emerged naked into the sterile environment of a U.S. military hospital, a little girl was running naked, fighting for her life. She was surrounded, as was I, by men in the uniform of the American armed forces. Men not too different from those who were paying such careful attention to my health and welfare were all too indifferent to hers. It reminds me every year of the pains and tragedies of human existence, but also of the little things that connect us together. Kim Phuc will never have any idea who I am, but once a year I remember what she went through, and I think again how glad I am that she made it. And then I buckle my own little girl into her car seat. My wife and I go out to dinner with her, and we celebrate the end of one year of messy human existence, and the start of another. The food always tastes just fine, and I'm never disappointed in my present. Any food is good food, I think, and a fresh year is the perfect gift.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:12 PM on August 4, 2007 [7 favorites]


That Steichen photograph is beautiful...is a print of it available for purchase anywhere? (None of the usual online suspects seem to have it.)
posted by Lucinda at 4:36 PM on August 4, 2007


.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:21 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I had no idea Grace was a photograph. I always thought it was a painting.

Wow, so did I. We had this in our house when I was growing up. I just assumed it was Saint Nick in his street clothes.
posted by itchylick at 6:11 PM on August 4, 2007


What a wonderful thread.

chuckdarwin, that fashion link you posted was astonishing. wow.

cunninglinguist, I've missed you. Hope you're well, nice to see you here in this thread.
posted by nickyskye at 10:02 PM on August 4, 2007


googly writes "goatse is 'emblematic of the Internet underground and the revolution against corporate control enabled by the democratization of the Internet'? Really? I just thought it was some asshole."

No, no. Goatse has a profound historical and humanist significance. It is emblematic of man's inhumanity to man's sphincter.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:06 PM on August 4, 2007


The now elderly man in the famous Eisenstaedt photograph of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on the day of the end of world War II. "Houston Police Department forensic artist Lois Gibson took up the challenge. And after what she called a detailed investigation, Gibson said she has concluded that McDuffie, 80, is the man in Alfred Eisenstaedt's Aug. 14, 1945 image."
posted by nickyskye at 11:22 PM on August 4, 2007


Great stuff. Thanks!
posted by bullitt 5 at 2:31 PM on August 5, 2007


Kind of ironic that the Lenna image they used has such visible compression artifacts.
posted by plant at 10:54 PM on August 5, 2007


Despite trying to think of myself as a rather hard-nosed person, every time I see the Earthrise from the Moon picture I feel like I'm going to cry. Every time. It's so beautiful and so small...and the idea that there were ever a small group of humans that far away from the rest of us always gives me a little transcendental, completely-not-thinking-of-myself-for-five-seconds moment, no matter what is going on around me.

The nerd in me is disappointed that "earthrise" isn't in firefox's dictionary.
posted by frobozz at 2:13 AM on August 6, 2007


Also, while we're splitting hairs about whether or not the Zapruder film is photography (Yes, it is.), videography like say the still frame from CNN of 9/11 is assuredly not photography.
posted by davros42 at 3:42 PM on August 8, 2007


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