10 Famous photographs and the stories behind them

Famous Photos

We take a look at some of the most famous (sometimes infamous) images ever captured on camera.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but not all of them still have everyone listening decades after they were taken.

So, what makes a photo timeless? And what about the people in the pictures?

V-J Day in Time Square – August 14, 1945

By Alfred Eisenstaedt

VJ in New York

Taken during the ‘Victory over Japan’ parade in New York, the picture depicts a returning sailor kissing a nurse.

Exactly, who the lovely couple were remained a mystery for some time, until the photographer was contacted in the 1970s by one Edith Shain.

Edith Shain

According to Shain, she had been at work at the nearby hospital, when she heard that the war was over and headed to  Times Square to join in the celebrations. It was there that the sailor took her by surprise and gave her the famous kiss. Apparently, she wasn’t best pleased either, but couldn’t break free of the drunken seafarers mighty grip.

As for the sailor himself. Well, despite about 40 people coming forward to confess to the kiss, he officially remains a mystery.

Afghan girl – December 1984

By Steve McCurry

Afghan Girl

Taken during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and used on the June 1985 issue of National Geographic, this image features a refugee from the war, only formally identified as Sharbat Gula 17 years later.

Afghan Girl

Having returned to Afghanistan following the occupation, Sharbat had never actually seen her famous portrait before the photographer Steve McCurry managed to track her down in January 2002.

They now remain in regular contact.

The Surgeons Photograph – April 1934

By Dr. Robert Wilson

Loch Ness Monster

Taken by gynaecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson, this is arguably the most famous photograph of the elusive Loch Ness Monster. Analysed and discussed endlessly since its publication in 1934, the truth behind the spooky snap wasn’t revealed for almost 70 years, when an accomplice to Wilson debunked the monster as no more than a model bought from Woolworths.

Lunch atop a Skyscraper – September 20th 1932

By Unknown

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper

Health and safety meant nothing to these lads, who thought it would be a great idea to have their packed lunch 840 feet above New York, with no safety harnesses.

Taken during the Great Depression when people we’re willing to go that extra mile and risk certain death to get work, this was actually a pre-planned affair organised by the Rockefeller Centre to promote its new skyscraper.

Officially attributed to ‘Unknown’ both Charles C.Ebbets and Lewis Hine have claimed credit as the man behind the camera.

Guerrillero Heroico – March 5th 1960

By Alberto Korda

Che Guevara

The poster of choice for generations of students and would-be revolutionaries, this truly iconic image of Che Guevara should have made the photographer Alberto Korda a wealthy man. Unfortunately, because the photo was taken in Cuba where copyright law for artistic work isn’t recognised, Korda never saw a penny.

Tank Man or Unknown Protester – June 5th 1989

By Jeff Widener

Tank Man

A lone man making a peaceful stand against a horde of tanks in Tienanmen Square.

Little is known of the ‘Unknown Protester’. He may have been 19 year old student Wang Weilin, but no one is entirely sure because he disappeared without a trace just after his encounter with the military might of communist China.

Was he executed by the government? Did he escape into obscurity? We’ll probably never know, but his defiance is now preserved in time.

Burning Monk – 11 June 1963

By Malcolm Wilde Browne

Burning Monk

Journalist Malcolm Wilde Browne had been tipped off that Buddhist monks were planning to protest in Saigon at their treatment by the South Vietnam government.

He turned up that morning with his camera and began taking photographs of the peaceful gathering…Then Thích Quảng Đức stepped out of a car.

Quang Duc knelt on the ground, while fellow monks doused him in petrol and calmly sat  meditating as he was set alight and burned alive.

The photograph was published in the worlds press the next day, shocking  John F. Kennedy enough to declare “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.”

And indeed, it was instrumental in the US putting pressure on the South Vietnam regime to end persecution of the Buddhists, and would contribute to the direction of the Vietnam war.

Churchill – 30th December 1941

By Yousef Karsh


Taken just after giving a speech to the Canadian parliament, the most famous picture of Winston was an impromptu photo call, much to the Prime Ministers irritation.

What really got him angry though was when the photographer pulled the trademark cigar from his subject’s mouth.

So, that stern look of authority is actually pure ‘throwing the toys out the pram’ Churchill.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima – February 23, 1945,

By Joe Rosenthal

Raising the Flag

Raising the first flag, was in reality the second attempt to pin a flag into Iwo Jima soil.

The first, less heroic attempt wasn’t quite as iconic…

Raising the 1st Flag

So, a larger flag was brought in and the classic pose captured.

Sadly, 3 of the soldiers featured were killed just days later in battle.

Einstein Tongue – 14 March 1951

By Arthur Sasse

Einstein sticks out his tongue

On the evening of his 72 birthday, Albert Einstein found himself pursued by a pack of photographers, desperate for a shot of the genius enjoying himself.

Albert asked them to leave him alone and when they refused he decided to give them more than what they wanted and stuck his tongue out at them.

Arthur Sasse was the lucky man who snapped this, the last of our famous images.

Want to share your passion online?




Andy Siddons
Content Writer

More posts by this author

Add a comment

  • (will not be published)

More posts by this author