- 1. Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de ville by Robert Doisneau
- 2. The Vulture and the Little Girl by Kevin Carter
- 3. Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry
- 4. Tank Man by Jeff Widener
- 5. Heart of Voh by Yann Arthus Bertrand
- 6. V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt
- 7. The Terror of War by Nick Ut
- 8. The Agony of Omayra Sànchez by Frank Fournier
- 9. Woman Resists Eviction in Manaus by Luiz Vasconcelos
- 10. Saigon Execution by Eddie Adams
- 11. The Death of Aylan by Nilüfer Demir
- 12. Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda
- 13. The Falling Man by Richard Drew
- 14. Bliss by Chuck O’Rear
- 15. The Burning Monk by Malcolm Browne
The history of photography has been marked by several striking photographs which have been etched into the minds of people across the globe; iconic images and subjects that speak a thousand words.
Whether they entered the public eye as pieces of photojournalism, fashion photography, landscape photography, portraiture, documentary photography of historical events, or art photography, the most famous and iconic photographs in the world come from a variety of genres and eras.
These instantly recognizable photographs have not only made a mark on the world, but they have also made the photographer famous, too.
Renowned and great photographers such as Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raymond Depardon and Robert Doisneau aren’t the only ones to have left behind an impressive legacy!
Many documentary photographers and photojournalists are among those responsible for these poignant pieces, and they have the influential nature of their work to thank for their success.
If you're looking for photography courses, why not check out our great tutors all over the UK. Find local photography courses near you in London, Glasgow, Cardiff or anywhere in between.
1. Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de ville by Robert Doisneau
Published in Life magazine in 1950, Doisneau’s photograph, ‘Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de ville’ (or ‘The Kiss at the Hôtel de ville’ in English) is regarded as one of the most romantic pictures ever taken.
This black and white photograph has also become a symbol of the humanist photography movement.
This movement was driven by Robert Doisneau, who strived to capture the essence of humanity in the years following the Second World War.
As France was in a state of disrepair following the war, a large amount of Doisneau’s work depicts citizens of Paris in their everyday lives. This included school pupils and couples as well as homeless people.
Photographing the people of Paris in this way gave Doisneau a means of creating a portrait of French society at that time.
If you're a keen photography, why not check out our photography tips for all styles of photography?
2. The Vulture and the Little Girl by Kevin Carter
This photograph has been viewed controversially for a long time.
Taken in 1993 by young photographer Kevin Carter, the moment depicts the consequences of famine in South Sudan.
Kevin Carter sought to bear witness to the difficulties faced by those affected and provoke a reaction on an international scale by capturing the scene of a young, starving girl curled up on the ground.
Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for this photograph; however, he was accused of having not aided this situation and ended his own life a few months later.
It was later learnt that the young girl in the photograph had been found alive and well.
3. Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry
Taken in June 1984, the portrait of the young Afghan girl known as Sharbat Gula is one of the most recognisable in the world.
At the time this photograph was taken, Sharbat Gula was twelve years old.
Perhaps the most striking part of this portrait is the young girl’s green eyes.
As McCurry took this photograph while travelling in Pakistan, the Afghan Girl can be used as an example of travel photography as well as portraiture.
4. Tank Man by Jeff Widener
Tank Man, which was taken in 1989, is the symbol of one student’s rebellion against the suppression of the Chinese army.
This photograph was taken at a demonstration against corruption. As the number of demonstrators continued to grow, the Chinese government made the decision to use the force of the army to restore order.
The driver of the tank refused to keep moving forward, contrary to the orders of his superiors.
Join online photography courses and add your picture to the list.
5. Heart of Voh by Yann Arthus Bertrand
The Heart of Voh (or Cœur de Voh, as it is called in French) is one of the world’s most famous pictures from the not-so-famous Yann Arthus Bertrand.
Taken in 1990, the photograph represents the mangrove, a forest between land and water in New Caledonia.
This type of vegetation covers over 75% of tropical land, representing 15 million hectares around the world.
When taking this photo, Bertrand, as a keen landscape photographer, hoped to alert people to the environmental issues in the area.
6. V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt
It was at the end of the Second World War that photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this moment between an American sailor and a nurse in Times Square.
This photograph, which was published in Life Magazine, was taken on 14th August 1945 – the day that Japan surrendered to the Allies.
Just as with Doisneau’s Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville, many people claimed to be the kissing strangers captured on camera.
Eventually, the lady in the photograph was identified as Greta Friedman.
Ever wondered about the Instagram trend of recipe flatlays? Superprof explains all in this article on food photography.
7. The Terror of War by Nick Ut
The Vietnam war, which took place from 1955 to 1975, was incredibly controversial.
People campaigned for the war and the massacres (represented by this photograph) that came with it to be brought to an end.
Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt, or the Napalm Girl as she is known, had to endure 17 skin grafts following the incident depicted in the picture.
8. The Agony of Omayra Sànchez by Frank Fournier
The story behind this photograph is nothing but tragic.
The piece depicts a young Colombian girl trapped in the debris of her home following the volcanic eruption disaster of Nevado del Ruiz in 1985.
Emergency services were unable to rescue Omayra in time as she was stuck beneath mud and debris. The 13-year-old girl eventually passed away, still trapped.
“I wanted people to know who she was” Frank Fournier on Omayra Sànchez
9. Woman Resists Eviction in Manaus by Luiz Vasconcelos
Some believe Brazil to be the land of greed.
Vasconcelos’ photograph shows the woman resisting the Brazilian forces, who had come to claim land for the state.
What makes this photograph even more important is its publication despite the treatment of journalists by the Brazilian government.
10. Saigon Execution by Eddie Adams
At the height of the Vietnam war, photographer Eddie Adams followed the Vietnamese army over the course of a few days.
He was present for the execution of a communist prisoner who thought he was only going to be subject to interrogation.
After winning the Pulitzer award, Adams said:
“The general killed the Vietcong; I killed the general with my camera”
11. The Death of Aylan by Nilüfer Demir
The image of an infant refugee found dead on a Turkish beach stopped the world’s news in September 2015.
Photographer Nilüfer Demir explained:
“By photographing them, I simply wanted to capture the trauma experienced by these people”
12. Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda
Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara is everywhere. As a well-known symbol of Marxism, this photograph is printed on on tshirts, bags and stickers.
But what is the story behind this portrait?
The photograph was taken in 1960 as a memorial for the victims of the explosion at La Coubre.
Guerrilllero Heroico was declared the most famous photograph in the world by the Maryland Institute of Art.
13. The Falling Man by Richard Drew
Taken during the horrors of the attack on the World Trade Center on 11th September 2001, the famous photograph of the falling man shows a man jumping from a high floor of one of the twin towers.
Several people threw themselves into the air to avoid inhaling the toxic fumes as the buildings burnt.
14. Bliss by Chuck O’Rear
In January 1995, Chuck O’Rear, a National Geographic photographer, took this photograph in Napa County in California.
Bliss rose to fame as the default desktop background for Windows XP.
15. The Burning Monk by Malcolm Browne
A Buddhist monk called Thich Quang Duc immolated himself on the streets of Saigon in protest of the treatment of Buddhist monks under president Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime.
Malcolm Browne was the only Western journalist at the scene in 1963, and managed to capture a photograph which would mark history.
Click here if you're interested in the art of contemporary photography.