The Digital Journalist presents a selection from the 100 Photographs That Changed the World

A MultimediaProduction By

Photographs and Text

Editor: Robert Sullivan
Picture Editor: Barbara Baker Burrows

The Premise Behind These Pictures

Photographs and History Images That Interpret Our Past
by Patrick Cox, Ph.D

Let us first pose a question: Is it folly to nominate 100 photographs as having been influential to world events, or is this a valid historic inquiry? LIFE will, here and in the following pages, put forth its argument. You be the judge.

Having been in the business of presenting stirring, revelatory photography since 1936, LIFE has a vested interest in claiming for photojournalism a place of high importance. Given its preferences and an endless page count, LIFE would put forth a thousand and more photos of substance, each of them worth at least a thousand words.

Words. Ever since chisel was taken to slate, it has been accepted that words can and do change the world. Whether it be the Torah, the New Testament or the Koran, the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence, J’Accuse, Oliver Twist or Catch-22, Common Sense or Silent Spring, the effect of words can reach so many hearts and minds that it impacts the human condition and the course of mankind. Speeches incite, editorials persuade, poems inspire.

Can photographs perform similarly?

For several weeks in the spring of 2003, LIFE solicited an-swers to that question on its own Web site ( and that of the highly regarded Digital Journalist (, an online publication affiliated with the University of Texas. We received many opinions, most of which supported our conceit that a photo could change the world—music to our ears—along with one detailed, intelligent rebuttal. “I really do not believe that photographs actually change anything, least of all the ‘World,’” wrote Joshua Haruni. “To suggest that photographs, like the written word, have had a profound effect on our lives is simply wrong. Just imagine suggesting that Picture Post or Time or LIFE had as much impact on our lives as Das Kapital, Mein Kampf or the Bible . . . Photographs can be very beautiful, informative, ugly or anything else the photographer chooses to show. 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.” Mr. Haruni is, by the way, a documentary photographer.

His argument forced us to once again confront our premise. We compared Mr. Haruni’s thoughts and those of other respondents and finally determined: A collection of pictures that “changed the world” is a thing worth contemplating, if only to arrive at some resolution about the influential nature of photography and whether it is limited, vast or in between. We do not claim that LIFE’s 100 are the 100 or the top 100, but that they, and the other related landmark images presented here, argue on behalf of the power of pictures.

Not every iconic image will be found here. Many nominated the 1937 crash of the Hindenburg. We looked hard at the picture, the event and the aftermath, and decided against. We may be remiss about the Hindenburg, and we may be wrong about excluding our friend Alfred Eisenstaedt’s picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square. Some of you will, no doubt, be disappointed by some choices and omissions. But many who answered our query will be pleased to see their passions shared. “The lone Chinese demonstrator as he stops a column of advancing tanks in Beijing was a person of steel,” wrote Maek Lester S. Cayabyab, a journalism student in Manila. Jacob Meade, a “photo fan” from Amherst, N.H., won’t find his Hindenburg, but he offered a compelling argument for “the portrait of Anne Frank: The poignancy of her gaze haunts the world to this day, pointing up the horror of Hitler’s genocide and making us wonder how many brilliant young women such as herself were lost.”

We took all nominations seriously, added our own, and then solicited the advice of some old LIFE hands. Renowned photographers such as John Loengard and Gordon Parks, who writes the evocative introduction immediately following, contributed their expertise. And then, just before we closed the book on this book, an E-mail came from Gary and Anita Fender of Celina, Ten., that put the project in perspective. Attached was a photo of their infant grandson, Caden Zane Brown, born March 16, 2003. “He’s changed our world,” the Fenders wrote, implying a truth that underlies every picture in these pages. It is, in the end, a personal relationship between viewer and image. The power of a picture is in the mind of the beholder.


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