Some famous photographs have been very successful at capturing the world’s attention. Whether capturing a historic moment, a disaster, a tragedy or a fleeting moment in time, photographs can communicate as much, if not more, details than words.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc – June 8, 1972
The black and white photo of little Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a young girl running naked, screaming through the streets along with other family members and villagers after napalm was dropped on their village was captured by photographer Nick Ut. After the village was bombed, screaming villagers ran through the streets towards soldiers and reporters. Nick Ut was ready with his camera as soldiers raced to help the villagers.
Although the picture of Phan Thi Kim Phuc naked and screaming in fear was the photo that really brought the tragedy of the Vietnam War to the world, it was not the only photo that Ut took that day. Other photos, as shown in ‘The Bigger Picture’ on Digital Journalist, show Phan Thi Kim Phuc being treated by soldiers for her burns, her grandmother carrying her dead grandson away from the devastation of Trang Bang Village, and Kim Phuc’s aunt carrying a baby boy who died 10 days after the napalm attack.
Nick Ut did not stop with taking the photos. He poured water from his canteen over Kim Phuc, as did ITC correspondent Christopher Wain, to help cool her burning body. Reporters and soldiers learned that the parents of Kim Phuc and her brother, who is running alongside her in the famous photo, were still in the village. Ut was urged on by Kim Phuc’s uncle and so he took control, racing the entire family into the car, carrying Kim Phuc in his arms.
Kim Phuc survived her injuries. She suffered many painful therapies and multiple surgeries. In London, years later, referring to Nick Ut, she told The Queen, “He saved my life.” Kim Phuc founded The Kim Foundation International, which focuses on “Healing Children of War.”
Marines Raise the Flag on Iwo Jima – February 23, 1945
Newseum says that Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press (AP) had only been in Iwo Jima for four days. After finally capturing Mount Suribachi, U.S. Marines raised a flag. But they wanted a larger flag. Listen to Rosenthal tell the story of how he aided in getting the infamous flag raised that could be seen across the entire island. He then captured the iconic photo that was shown around the world. Newseum calls Rosenthal’s photo, “the most enduring image of the war.”
Biafra – 1969
The Digital Journalist also features another of the “100 Photos that Changed the World” that sent shock waves throughout the world. It was when Don McCullen captured the starvation and tragedy in Biafra in 1969. McCullen brought the plight of the people to the world, resulting in massive efforts to help feed the millions of starving people. It was already too late for many individuals, as reported by Dirck Halstead, who says that over a million individuals died in just a few short years. Most literally starved to death.
Saigon Execution – February 1, 1969
It was not until after he learned what happened that Edward Adams of the Associated Press realized what he really had on his camera. As he explains in the short Newseum video, when he saw a man raise his pistol to the head of a North Vietnam prisoner’s head, and he took the picture, he did not realize that General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who was the chief of South Vietnam’s national police, was going to shoot the prisoner in the head right on the spot. The man is then shown lying in the street, dead.
Kissing Couple – Times Square August 14, 1945
The news that WWII had just ended was reason for jubilation and people began taking to the streets in droves. Times Square quickly filled with pedestrians, military personnel and those just rushing about on break from their job near Times Square. One of the sailors present that day was George Mendoza, who was on a date with Rita Petry. As thousands of people flocked into Times Square, Mendoza, who admits that he had had a few drinks, saw a woman who he thought was a nurse, impulsively grabbed her and kissed her, right in Times Square. The iconic photo was captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
Mendoza was on a date that day and his date is not the woman he kissed. Rita Petry, the woman on the left in the photo is grinning a wide grin as she sees what her date is doing. Unbeknownst to Mendoza, the woman was not a nurse. She was dental assistant Greta Zimmer.
But for decades, their identities would become hidden. All three of them, Mendoza, Petry and Zimmer went on with their lives. Mendoza and his date got married. Zimmer married another man and had a family. Decades later, the mystery of who the iconic couple were continued. Several people claimed to be the man or the woman captured in that moment in time by Eisenstaedt, but were later proved to not be the couple. Finally, in 1980, Mendoza and Zimmer were identified as the couple in the photo, with Petry looking on. While Mendoza said he didn’t remember the photo or the kiss, Greta, according to the New York Post, said she will never forget it. In A CBS News video, Petry, now Mrs. George Mendoza for the past 67 years, said that women everywhere want to kiss her husband now. She said that strangers come up to him, and that “the kissing sailor has to think he’s gonna kiss everybody, so he does.”
The Times Square Alliance holds a “Kiss-In” at Times Square every five years to re-enact the moment when Mendoza grabbed Greta Petry and was snapped by Eisenenstaedt and forever made famous when LIFE Magazine published the iconic photo of the two kissing. The next Kiss-In event is scheduled in Times Square on August 14, 2015.
Photos tell stories and capture history, tragedy and jubilation like no words can. Classic, tragic, timeless and hilarious photos tell the world a story.