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10 Color Photographs That Changed the World Forever

While it is something of a trite cliché to say that a picture paints a thousand words, since the invention of the camera, photographs have brought the realities of the world to the eyes of ordinary people. The advent of color photography made these realities even more undeniable — the capacity to view images in the colors in which we see things in everyday life breaking down the barrier that sometimes seems to remove us from the subject matter in black-and-white photos. Whether it be the horrors of war or the beauty of the Earth, color photography has captured moments in modern history in such a way as to make them permanent, so that they may never be forgotten.

10. The Falling Man (Twin Towers)

Richard Drew [2001]

The tragedy and heartbreak that occurred on September 11th, 2001 was matched only by the pure human spirit and courage that so many showed on that day. The man plummeting to his death in this image was one of hundreds who jumped from the towers of the World Trade Center to escape the flames and smoke. Captured mid-tumble, he almost appears to be controlling his own descent. While the picture initially provoked outrage — with some saying it was disrespectful to the dead — the photographer stated: “I didn't capture this person's death. I captured part of his life." To many, "The Falling Man" will always be inextricably linked with the memory of 9/11.

9. A Vulture Watches a Starving Child (Sudan)

Kevin Carter [1993]

This image, captured during the Sudanese famine of 1993, is both alienating and compelling. The helplessness and hopelessness of the child contrasts with the predatory patience of the vulture. The shot epitomized the cruelty of the famine and brought the harrowing issue into sharp focus across the world. The photographer who captured it took his own life shortly after this photograph was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

8. Casualties of War (Gulf War)

David Turnley [1991]

The Pentagon severely restricted the media’s access to soldiers, images and information during the Gulf War. When this image emerged, with its heart-wrenching background, it quickly became an iconic snapshot of the war. The photograph captures the moment a young United States sergeant realized that it was his friend’s body (killed by friendly fire) in the body bag beside him.

7. Tank Man (Tiananmen Square)

Jeff Widener [1989]

Tiananmen Square is a historic site and was a point of pride for the Chinese government, but this landmark in the middle of Beijing became a byword for China’s human rights abuses and frequent brutal crackdowns on dissent — particularly after the protests of 1989 quickly became a massacre. The photograph of a man standing calmly as he faced a column of tanks — bags still clutched in his hand — touched the hearts of millions. The "Tank man," despite his anonymity, put a human face to the plight of ordinary Chinese citizens as they demonstrated against the oppressive nature of their government.

6. How Life Begins

Lennart Nilsson [1965]

This incredible photograph of a fetus developing inside a womb and its companion series of shots were an immediate sensation upon publication. In addition to educating the world on the wonders of life and giving expectant parents an image of their hopes and dreams, they proved potent fodder for "pro-life" activists and were soon to be seen on billboards and placards across America. But beyond this, they — and this image in particular — became emblematic of the relationship between science and humanity, a true sign of our times.

5. Hurricane Katrina Aftermath

Unknown [2005]

This picture, with stark graffiti warning of a dead body and pleading for help, epitomized the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The photograph and many more like it showed the world that even the mightiest of nations could be undone by nature, that human suffering ignores borders, and that the US government’s failure to act had a severe and deadly effect.

4. Earthrise

William Anders [1968]

Called "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken" by nature photographer Galen Rowell, this photo was snapped by astronaut Bill Anders while on the Apollo 8 mission (the first manned mission to orbit the moon). It has since been featured on a postage stamp and various book covers. With the Blue Planet half in shadow and surrounded by the cosmos, it reminds us of the fragility and beauty of our world and the life upon it, bringing our small place in the universe into stark relief.

3. Afghan Girl

Steve McCurry [1984]

This photograph of a young girl, then known only as the "Afghan Girl," mesmerized the world when it was published on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. It still does. For while it served to document the consequences of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, it has become among the most iconic photo portraits of all time. The young orphan's piercing eyes and beauty gave a face to refugees the world over, and countless people enquired after her story and welfare. In 2002, she was finally identified as Sharbat Gula. While her face had changed and her eye color had altered with time, the same soulfulness shone through.

2. Man in the Hood (Abu Ghraib)

Unknown [2003]

When this photo — and others that showed even more horrific torture — surfaced in 2004, the world was rocked to its core. For many US citizens it seemed to show the unthinkable: US military personnel engaging in unspeakable acts of torture in Abu Ghraib prison. The controversy of the war in Iraq was once again in the spotlight. For others, it posed questions about the nature of war and its effects on those participating on the ground. Across the world, it confirmed to many their prejudices against the United States, and fired up terrorists supportive of the anti-US cause.

1. Man on the Moon

Neil Armstrong [1969]

Nothing sums up human ingenuity in the face of adversity, mankind’s ability to master our environment, and the possibilities open to humanity more than this image. The single figure in the frame is Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second human being to ever set foot on the surface of the moon. The man behind the camera is Neil Armstrong, the first man to accomplish that same feat. This photograph captured the triumph of the Apollo 11 mission and the US victory in the space race.

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