The 10 most controversial photographs ever taken
In our December issue, we take a look at the ten best photo reports as chosen by Marie Claire’s first International Photography Awards. If these images prove anything, it’s that a picture speaks volumes. We decided to take a look at images that have sparked conversations and controversy. WARNING: Some of these images are shocking and not for sensitive viewers:
Thomas Hoepker’s 9/11 photograph (2001)
The German photographer’s image shows a group of seemingly relaxed young Americans with the burning twin towers in the background. The picture was published in 2006 making the subjects out as callous. A man later identified himself as one of the group and expressed that they were “in a profound state of shock and disbelief”. The photograph is now considered as one of the defining images of the September 11th attacks.
Image of the Sudan famine by Kevin Carter (1993)
This Pulitzer Prize winning photograph became a vivid representation of the harsh realities of Sudan’s famine. The photographer, Kevin Carter, encountered and photographed a toddler who had stopped to rest whilst crawling towards some food, as a vulture waited close-by. Many were concerned with the fate of the girl and criticized Carter for not helping the child, calling him “another predator”. Carter later committed suicide, making reference to the devastating images he had been exposed to in his suicide note.
The Falling Man, Richard Drew (2001)
Whilst covering 9/11 for the Associated Press, Richard Drew, took a number of photographs of men and women who chose to jump to their deaths rather than be burned in the fire. One image, however, stood out from the rest. Dubbed “The falling man”, it depicted a man in what has been described as a ‘calm’ moment whilst falling from the tower. Many opposed the publishing of the photo, citing that the image was too disturbing.
Napalm ( 1972)
This haunting image is the work of another Associated Press photographer, Huynh Cong Ut, which has been credited as contributing to the end of the Vietnam war. The children in the photograph were escaping from a village that had just been attacked. The naked girl – who was burning at the time – came to represent the horrors of the war. The photograph became a symbol of the massive peace movement that took place in the ’70s.
The Burning Monk (1963)
During Vietnam’s Diem regime, a group of Buddhist monks held a protest against their oppressive treatment by the Catholic regime. What started as a simple procession quickly turned into a grim image. Quang-Duc, a 66-year-old monk set himself alight in a meditative position and remained still and silent as the flames ate away at him. When this was captured by photographer Malcome Brown, it gave the world a glimpse of the situation within the country and even prompted president JFK to step in.
Iraqi war prisoner (2002)
Taken by Jean-Marc Bouju, this image from the Iraqi war both shocked and touched the world. The prisoner and his son were being held at a US army base camp and the father had been hooded and hand-cuffed. The boy was terrified by the sight and the man’s hands were later freed to enable him to comfort his son. The image was awarded the 2003 World Press Photo of the year.
Fire on Marlborough Street (1975)
Stanley Forman’s photograph won a Pulitzer Prize and caused the updating of legislation regarding fire escapes in the United States. Two girls are captured falling, after a fire escape collapsed beneath them. The 19-year-old reportedly broke the fall of the younger girl, who later died in hospital. The public reacted by accusing the photographer of invading the privacy of the victims and described newspapers that had published the image as being sensationalist.
Omayra Sanchez (1985)
The 13-year-old Colombian girl was caught in the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz. She was frozen in an image by Frank Fournier, shortly before she died. Omayra had been trapped for three days in the ruins of her home, the Red Cross requested help with her rescue from the government, but their requests were in vain. Many were disturbed at the idea of witnessing the young girl’s last moments and more were shocked that the government did not intervene.
Samar Hassan (2005)
Chris Hondros was covering the war in Iraq when he witnessed the events that would create what could be the most devastating image to come out of the Iraq war. An Iraqi family failed to stop at a checkpoint and were soon confronted with bullets from the American soldiers. Hondros photographed the 5-year-old Samar Hassan, crying whilst covered in her parent’s blood.
Michael Jackson (2009)
Shortly after his death, an image of the King of Pop, during his very last moments was featured by OK! magazine and a number of other publications. The photograph of a frail Michael was considered by many to be in bad taste.
We have to add an 11th photo. In a very recent photo taken by a freelance journalist for the New York Post, R. Umar Abbasi, a man is shown moments before dying. The photographer said that he inadvertently stumbled upon the killing of a Korean man, Ki Suk Han. He was pushed on the subway tracks in NYC by an unidentified assailant. The paper ran the photo, it read: “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die. DOOMED.”
Chisanga Mukuka, CT intern