Stories Behind These Famous Photographs Will Surprise You

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Nothing else can penetrate through and elicit an immediate emotional response like images. They let us see the world through the photographer's eyes. Photography has helped to reinforce history by making it more physical and genuine. Since the 1820s, when the first surviving pictures were discovered, the world has been obliged to pay attention to real images of real events. Faraway events grew more lifelike and humanized, allowing individuals to observe exactly what was going on at any one time. Cameras filmed some of history's most pivotal moments, altering how people received and responded to the news. Some of history's most iconic photos have surprising backstories, some terrible, some uplifting, but all remarkable.

1. Iconic Tongue Out Picture of Einstein (1951) by Arthur Sasse

The picture has become famous as "Einstein's Tongue" due to its amusing nature. The image depicts a different side of Albert Einstein, and its whimsical and goofy nature makes the image so appealing. The scene occurred during Albert Einstein's 72nd birthday party, and while several photographers were there, only Sasse captured the one that became memorable.

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Einstein was so taken with the image that he asked the United Press International (UPI) for nine copies of the cropped photograph for his personal use. One of those personal applications fell to Einstein's acquaintance Howard K. Smith. The photograph, as expected, included a little inscription at the back, which stated, “This gesture you will like because it is aimed at all of humanity. A civilian can afford to do what no diplomat would dare.”

2. Sharbat Gula (1985)by Steve McCurry

The iconic photo of a little Afghan girl fleeing the conflict, initially published in 1985, still evokes a deep and complicated combination of feelings and emotions to this day. Unknowingly, a 12-year-old girl jolted millions of people throughout the world and pushed them to pay attention to one of the world's most serious humanitarian problems at the moment. Sharbat Gula was an Afghan refugee in a Pakistani camp.

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In 1985, Sharbat Gula and her piercing green-eyed look ripped through the cover of National Geographic. Afghanistan was at war at the time. The Soviet Union had invaded the nation, and the Mujahideen were fighting back. In the midst of the pandemonium, innocent individuals and children like Sharbat Gula were made homeless and stateless. Sharbat Gula still embodies the sorrow of Afghanistan's displaced population after nearly four decades of conflict.

3. Migrant Mother (1936) by Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange shot this image in 1936 while working for the United States government's Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was established during the Great Depression to raise awareness of and offer assistance to needy farmers. Lange met Florence Owens Thompson and her children in Nipomo, California, in a camp full of field laborers whose livelihoods had been destroyed by the collapse of the pea harvests. The photo became a symbol of the hardship of migrant agricultural laborers during the Great Depression.

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However, Thompson later disputed Lange's account in the 1970s. She insisted that she and Lange did not speak to each other, nor did she sell the tires of her car. Thompson claimed that Lange had either confused her for another farmer or exaggerated what she had understood of her situation.

4. V-J Day in Times Square (1945) by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt's photograph of V-J Day in Times Square is perhaps one of the most memorable World War II images. It achieved notoriety after being featured in LIFE magazine and quickly became a cultural symbol. For decades after the photograph was released, the subjects' identities remained a mystery. The true nurse was not discovered until George Mendonsa's identity was established by matching scars and tattoos.

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On the day of the shot, George had gone to the movies with his wife, Rita, who can also be seen in the background. Because it was presumed that Greta had not agreed to the kiss, the image was later condemned as an inappropriate portrayal of sexual assault. Greta refuted the charges, claiming that “no way there was anything bad about it.”

5. The Falling Man (2001) by Richard Drew

The Falling Man became a disturbing depiction of the events of September 11, 2001. Photographer Richard Drew captured 12 images of the man as he fell, but this one became renowned because it shows the person going straight down, almost as if he were diving. It is estimated that around 200 individuals leaped from the World Trade Center that day. Many people fell or were blasted out of windows. As a result, identifying the subject of the photograph has been challenging.

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Jonathan Briley, who worked on the 106th level of the North Tower, is the most likely candidate. Briley was a former sound engineer who lived in Mount Vernon. He was asthmatic, so he would have suffered greatly as the smoke from the collision began to rise. He was just 43 years old at the time of his death.

6. Gandhi and The Spinning Wheel (1946) by Margaret Bourke

Margaret Bourke-White, LIFE magazine's first female photographer, was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to photograph Mahatma Gandhi in 1946. This once-in-a-lifetime chance rapidly turned into a nightmare. She was designed to face several obstacles before meeting India's ideological leader. This includes spinning Gandhi's famed homespun. The spinning wheel was the most powerful symbol of India's struggle and longing for independence from the United Kingdom.

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Bourke-White got lucky on the third try after two unsuccessful shots due to technical issues. This classic photograph of Gandhi spinning at his spinning wheel was taken less than two years before his assassination.

7. Guerrillero Heroico (1960) by Alberto Korda

Ernesto "Che" Guevara was immortalized in this photograph taken by Alberto Korda. It became a heroic symbol across the globe to this date. It has spread worldwide, from flags to t-shirts to stickers, and the narrative behind the image is as follows. On March 4, 1960, the French freight ship La Coubre was bringing guns from Belgium to Cuba to outfit Castro's dictatorship. The boat exploded, and Castro blamed it on the US.

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More than 75 people were killed in the incident. The next day, a somber funeral was held at La Habana. Alberto Korda photographed Che Guevara when the ceremony's speakers were dictating some words. He didn't notice the photographer, and the image became famous and meaningful over time.