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100 Photographs That Changed the World

The Most Influential Images of All Time

100 Photographs that Changed The World is a book of photographs, that are believed to have pushed towards a change, accumulated by the editors of Life in 2003.
The project began with an online question posted on Life's website in 2003 and The Digital Journalist: Can photographs create the same historical effect as literature? The question remained on the website for visitors to openly answer to for several weeks. Most responses were in favor of the idea with the exception of a rebuttal from documentary photographer Joshua Haruni who said, "photographs can definitely inspire us, but the written word has the ability to spark the imagination to greater depths than any photograph, whose content is limited to what exists in the frame.

100 images that changed the world, selected by TIME and an international team of curators. 20th century.
Explore the stories behind 8 interesting images 

«Lunch Atop a Skyscraper»
1932
Photograph by Unknown

"If you see this picture once, you never forget it."
—Christine Roussel, Rockefeller Center Historian


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It’s the most perilous yet playful lunch break ever captured: 11 men casually eating, chatting and sneaking a smoke as if they weren’t 840 feet above Manhattan with nothing but a thin beam keeping them aloft. That comfort is real; the men are among the construction workers who helped build Rockefeller Center. But the picture, taken on the 69th floor of the flagship RCA Building (now the GE Building), was staged as part of a promotional campaign for the massive skyscraper complex. While the photographer and the identities of most of the subjects remain a mystery—the photographers Charles C. Ebbets, Thomas Kelley and William Leftwich were all present that day, and it’s not known which one took it—there isn’t an ironworker in New York City who doesn’t see the picture as a badge of their bold tribe. In that way they are not alone. By thumbing its nose at both danger and the Depression, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper came to symbolize American resilience and ambition at a time when both were desperately needed. It has since become an iconic emblem of the city in which it was taken, affirming the romantic belief that New York is a place unafraid to tackle projects that would cow less brazen cities. And like all symbols in a city built on hustle, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper has spawned its own economy. It is the Corbis photo agency’s most reproduced image. And good luck walking through Times Square without someone hawking it on a mug, magnet or T-shirt.
 

Yevgeny Khaldei «Raising a Flag over the Reichstag»
1945
"Then I found my spot, and I told the soldier, "Alyosha, climb up there."
—Yevgeny Khaldei


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“This is what I was waiting for for 1,400 days,” the Ukrainian-born Yevgeny Khaldei said as he gazed at the ruins of Berlin on May 2, 1945. After four years of fighting and photographing across Eastern Europe, the Red Army soldier arrived in the heart of the Nazis’ homeland armed with his ­Leica III rangefinder and a massive Soviet flag that his uncle, a tailor, had fashioned for him from three red tablecloths. Adolf Hitler had committed suicide two days before, yet the war still raged as Khaldei made his way to the Reichstag. There he told three soldiers to join him, and they clambered up broken stairs onto the parliament building’s blood-soaked parapet. Gazing through his camera, Khaldei knew he had the shot he had hoped for: “I was euphoric.” In printing, Khaldei dramatized the image by intensifying the smoke and darkening the sky—even scratching out part of the negative—to craft a romanticized scene that was part reality, part artifice and all patriotism. Published in the Russian magazine Ogonek, the image became an instant propaganda icon. And no wonder. The flag jutting from the heart of the enemy exalted the nobility of communism, proclaimed the Soviets the new overlords and hinted that by lowering the curtain of war, Premier Joseph Stalin would soon hoist a cold new iron one across the land.
 

Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt «ÄV-J Day in Times Square»
1945
"Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse."
—Alfred Eisenstaedt


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At its best, photography captures fleeting snippets that crystallize the hope, anguish, wonder and joy of life. Alfred Eisenstaedt, one of the first four photographers hired by LIFE magazine, made it his mission “to find and catch the storytelling moment.” He didn’t have to go far for it when World War II ended on August 14, 1945. Taking in the mood on the streets of New York City, Eisenstaedt soon found himself in the joyous tumult of Times Square. As he searched for subjects, a sailor in front of him grabbed hold of a nurse, tilted her back and kissed her. Eisenstaedt’s photograph of that passionate swoop distilled the relief and promise of that momentous day in a single moment of unbridled joy (although some argue today that it should be seen as a case of sexual assault). His beautiful image has become the most famous and frequently reproduced picture of the 20th century, and it forms the basis of our collective memory of that transformative moment in world history. “People tell me that when I’m in heaven,” Eisenstaedt said, “they will remember this picture.”
 

Photograph by Philippe Halsman «Dalí Atomicus»
1948
"Before there was Photoshop, there was Philippe."
—Irene Halsman, Daughter of Philippe Halsman


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Capturing the essence of those he photographed was Philippe Halsman’s life’s work. So when Halsman set out to shoot his friend and longtime collaborator the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, he knew a simple seated portrait would not suffice. Inspired by Dalí’s painting Leda Atomica, Halsman created an elaborate scene to surround the artist that included the original work, a floating chair and an in-progress easel suspended by thin wires. Assistants, including Halsman’s wife and young daughter Irene, stood out of the frame and, on the photographer’s count, threw three cats and a bucket of water into the air while Dalí leaped up. It took the assembled cast 26 takes to capture a composition that satisfied Halsman. And no wonder. The final result, published in LIFE, evokes Dalí’s own work. The artist even painted an image directly onto the print before publication.

Before Halsman, portrait photography was often stilted and softly blurred, with a clear sense of detachment between the photographer and the subject. Halsman’s approach, to bring subjects such as Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock into sharp focus as they moved before the camera, redefined portrait photography and inspired generations of photographers to collaborate with their subjects.

Photograph by Hy Peskin «Camelot»
1953
"He became emblematic of a new breed of celebrity politician, as notable for his good looks, infectious smile, charm and wit as for his thoughtful pronouncements."
—Robert Dallek, Historian


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 Before they could become American royalty, America needed to meet John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. That introduction came when Hy Peskin photographed the handsome politician on the make and his radiant fiancée over a summer weekend in 1953. Peskin, a renowned sports photographer, headed to Hyannis Port, Mass., at the invitation of family patriarch Joseph Kennedy. The ambassador, eager for his son to take the stage as a national figure, thought a feature in the pages of LIFE would foster a fascination with John, his pretty girlfriend and one of America’s wealthiest families. That it did. Peskin put together a somewhat contrived “behind the scenes” series titled “Senator ­Kennedy Goes A-Courting.” While Jackie bristled at the intrusion—John’s mother Rose even told her how to pose—she went along with the staging, and readers got to observe Jackie mussing the hair of “the handsomest young member of the U.S. Senate,” playing football and softball with her future in-laws, and sailing aboard John’s boat, Victura. “They just shoved me into that boat long enough to take the picture,” she later confided to a friend.

It was pitch-perfect brand making, with Kennedy on the cover of the world’s most widely read photo magazine, cast as a self-assured playboy prepared to say goodbye to bachelorhood. A few months later LIFE would cover the couple’s wedding, and by then America was captivated. In the staid age of Dwight David Eisenhower and Richard Milhous Nixon, Peskin unveiled the face of Camelot, one that changed America’s perception of politics and politicians, and set John and Jackie off on becoming the most recognizable couple on the planet.
 

Photograph by Richard Avedon «Dovima with elephants,
evening dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris»

1955


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When Richard Avedon photographed Dovima at a Paris circus in 1955 for Harper’s Bazaar, both were already prominent in their fields. She was one of the world’s most famous models, and he was one of the most famous fashion photographers. It makes sense, then, that Dovima With Elephants is one of the most famous fashion photographs of all time. But its enduring influence lies as much in what it captures as in the two people who made it. Dovima was one of the last great models of the sophisticated mold, when haute couture was a relatively cloistered and elite world. After the 1950s, models began to gravitate toward girl-next-door looks instead of the old generation’s unattainable beauty, helping turn high fashion into entertainment. Dovima With Elephants distills that shift by juxtaposing the spectacle and strength of the elephants with Dovima’s beauty—and the delicacy of her gown, which was the first Dior dress designed by Yves Saint Laurent. The picture also brings movement to a medium that was previously typified by stillness. Models had long been mannequins, meant to stand still while the clothes got all the attention. Avedon saw what was wrong with that equation: clothes didn’t just make the man; the man also made the clothes. And by moving models out of the studio and placing them against exciting backdrops, he helped blur the line between commercial fashion photography and art. In that way, Dovima With Elephants captures a turning point in our broader culture: the last old-style model, setting fashion off on its new path.
 

Photograph by Harry Benson «The Pillow Fight»
1964
"The Beatles will never have a pillow fight again, and I couldn’t repeat that picture again."
—Harry Benson


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Harry Benson didn’t want to meet the Beatles. The Glasgow-born photographer had plans to cover a news story in Africa when he was assigned to photograph the musicians in Paris. “I took myself for a serious journalist and I didn’t want to cover a rock ’n’ roll story,” he scoffed. But once he met the boys from Liverpool and heard them play, Benson had no desire to leave. “I thought, ‘God, I’m on the right story.’ ” The Beatles were on the cusp of greatness, and Benson was in the middle of it. His pillow-fight photo, taken in the swanky George V Hotel the night the band found out “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit No. 1 in the U.S., freezes John, Paul, George and Ringo in an exuberant cascade of boyish talent—and perhaps their last moment of unbridled innocence. It captures the sheer joy, happiness and optimism that would be embraced as Beatlemania and that helped lift America’s morale just 11 weeks after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The following month, Benson accompanied the Fab Four as they flew to New York City to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, kick-starting the British Invasion. The trip led to decades of collaboration with the group and, as Benson later recalled, “I was so close to not being there.”

Photograph by Neil Armstrong, NASA « A Man on the Moon»
1969
"It is a truly astounding shot and was the result of an entirely serendipitous moment."
—Buzz Aldrin


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Somewhere in the Sea of Tranquillity, the little depression in which Buzz Aldrin stood on the evening of July 20, 1969, is still there—one of billions of pits and craters and pockmarks on the moon’s ancient surface. But it may not be the astronaut’s most indelible mark.

Aldrin never cared for being the second man on the moon—to come so far and miss the epochal first-man designation Neil Armstrong earned by a mere matter of inches and minutes. But Aldrin earned a different kind of immortality. Since it was Armstrong who was carrying the crew’s 70-millimeter Hasselblad, he took all of the pictures—meaning the only moon man earthlings would see clearly would be the one who took the second steps. That this image endured the way it has was not likely. It has none of the action of the shots of Aldrin climbing down the ladder of the lunar module, none of the patriotic resonance of his saluting the American flag. He’s just standing in place, a small, fragile man on a distant world—a world that would be happy to kill him if he removed so much as a single article of his exceedingly complex clothing. His arm is bent awkwardly—perhaps, he has speculated, because he was glancing at the checklist on his wrist. And Armstrong, looking even smaller and more spectral, is reflected in his visor. It’s a picture that in some ways did everything wrong if it was striving for heroism. As a result, it did everything right.

From 100photos.time.com