After looking through BuzzFeed’s “45 Most Powerful Images of 2011” there are a few constant themes that produced the best content for still photography. The strongest pictures involved a display of emotion, destructive weather and phenomena, memorable events or anniversaries, and action and conflict. Iconic photographs not only show something of great emotion or power, but also become symbolic in a way that captures a certain feeling and sense of time. For instance, when you see one of the iconic pictures from the “Occupy” movement you get a sense of what the time is like because we’re living in it: the economy is bad and the middle class is paying for it. It’s easy for us to relate to it because it’s happening now. There are several “Occupy” photos that have captured the feeling of the times that we will look back on in the future and remember just how bad the economy was.
I wasn’t around for the Vietnam War, but one of the most iconic images that captures the violence of the war is the photo taken of South Vietnam police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a helpless Viet Cong prisoner. The execution was caught by AP photographer Eddie Adams, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1969 picture that acted as a symbol for the anti-war movement. However, one of the problems with photos is that they can be looked at without full context, which allows us to make judgements based on a lack of information. Adams says he wishes he’d never taken the photo because “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”
Nearly every picture on the most iconic list is taken from an event that everyone has heard about, from the tsunami in Japan to the tornado in Joplin to the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 to the Occupy protests. Although not everyone has shared or been a part of these moments, everyone has had their own reaction and opinion of these moments and can remember hearing about them. The great thing about photography is that it doesn’t have to be a moment that everyone knows about for it to stir an emotion. For example, the image of the dog Hawkeye laying next to his master’s casket at his military funeral might be one of the saddest pictures in this set. You don’t need to know the details that the soldier died in a helicopter accident on a mission in Afghanistan. Just seeing the dog upset is enough to know that this is a picture showing the grief that comes with losing a loved one.
Here are the images I thought were the most iconic from the list: