A passel of powerful photos

June 4, 2012 • 10:25 am

Take a few minutes and look at Buzzfeed‘s post on “40 of the most powerful photographs ever taken“.  Here are eight of my favorites, but don’t miss any of them. (I’ve omitted the ones you’ve probably seen before, like JFK Jr. saluting as his father’s coffin passes by.)  As always, click to enlarge.

Jewish prisoners at the moment of their liberation from an internment camp “death train” near the Elbe in 1945. (More pictures and the full story here.)

A North Korean man waves his hand as a South Korean relative weeps, following a luncheon meeting during inter-Korean temporary family reunions at Mount Kumgang resort October 31, 2010. Four hundred and thirty-six South Koreans were allowed to spend three days in North Korea to meet their 97 North Korean relatives, whom they had been separated from since the 1950-53 war.
(Reuters / Kim Ho-Young)
A firefighter gives water to a koala during the devastating Black Saturday bushfires that burned across Victoria, Australia, in 2009.
(Reuters / Mark Pardew)
Terri Gurrola is reunited with her daughter after serving in Iraq for 7 months.
Source: projects.ajc.com / via: polichicksonline.com
Harold Whittles hears for the first time ever after a doctor places an earpiece in his left ear.
Source: Jack Bradley, date unknown / via: thehighdefinite.com
Helen Fisher kisses the hearse carrying the body of her 20-year-old cousin, Private Douglas Halliday, as he and six other fallen soldiers are brought through the town of Wootton Bassett in England.
(Getty Images / photos)
A German World War II prisoner, released by the Soviet Union, is reunited with his daughter. The child had not seen her father since she was one year old.
Source: Helmuth Pirath / via: worldpressphoto.org
Eight-year-old Christian Golczynski accepts the flag for his father, Marine Staff Sgt. Marc Golczynski, during a memorial service. Marc Golczynski was shot on patrol during his second tour in Iraq (which he had volunteered for) just a few weeks before he was due to return home.
(AP / Daily News Journal, Aaron Thompson, File)

I’ve concentrated on photos of people reacting to death, or to the renewal of life, to remind us of both the transience of our existence and the attendant pain when we lose a loved one. Remember, when a plane goes down, as one did yesterday, or a drone causes “collateral damage” (i.e., the killing of innocent people), as one did today, every one of those people ramifies a web of inconsolable loss through friends and family.

35 thoughts on “A passel of powerful photos

  1. Just learned this morning that the 42 year old daughter of a friend committed suicide last night, leaving three children.

    1. Jerry might have been thinking of the plane that went down in Lagos, Nigeria, yesterday, killing all 153 people on board.

        1. Sorry, I had not heard about the Nigerian crash, and didn’t realize that the AT crash hadn’t made the national news.
          My husband is a wildland firefighter (in addtion to his regular job) and is currently on assignment. I worked part-time dispatch in summer 2002-2003, and still follow the wildland fire websites during our Arizona fire season. We have both worked on fatality incidents.
          No omission/offense/nationalism was intended.

          1. Sorry for being so fast on the snark button.

            I hope your husband is alright.

  2. I was moved by the Wootton Bassett image and the last one in particular, perhaps because they’re the most recent ones. Thanks again, Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush.

    1. Not quite “soon after.” Some months later the vets discovered that she had chlamydia, which is incurable in koalas, and euthanized her.

      PS: Which puzzles me because in humans, chlamydia is easily curable with tetracycline. Does the marsupial metabolism respond badly to tetracycline?

  3. Sorry mr. Coyne, but what about those people these dead trained killers we call “soldiers” killed?

    Not really that powerful when you think about that..

    1. Couldn’t disagree more. If anything that viewpoint could make them more powerful. I think in your desire to make a statement you conflate “powerful” with “good” or some other similar positive attribute. This seems very clear when you consider that several of the pictures are of moments when victims of soldiers/politicians stood up to power at great risk to themselves.

      All powerful means in this context is “the ability to cause a strong emotional response”. By your comment you appear to have had a strong emotional response.

  4. The sense of loss is overwhelming as expressed in these photos, but it also brings to me a sense of utter disgust that Bush and advisors led us into the unnecessary Iraq war that did not have to be fought. How can he and they live with themselves in comfort and health knowing the harm they have done? How can they pray to their God without acknowledging the guilt they bear? Or, is the human mind too adept at making excuses and shifting blame elsewhere? Bush and buddies should do penance by visiting at VA hospitals and with veterans offering financial support and apologies. Every time I see Bush enjoying his post presidential life in luxury I feel like vomiting. He considers himself to be a Christian, but he is one of the worst unrepentant sinners of this century.

    1. If you want to know how Bush, a “good” Christian, can sleep well at night with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Muslims on his hands, all you have to do is ask that favorite question, “What would Jesus do?”

      The answer is pretty damned clear.

      Luke 19:27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

      Apologies for the length of this next quote, but I think the context really makes clear that this isn’t some sort of metaphorical “inner struggle” that the Jesus character is talking about:

      Matthew 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

      33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

      34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

      35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

      36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

      37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

      38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

      39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

      Charming fella, that Jesus, ain’t he?


    2. I agree with your message but I think Bush is entirely consistent with the practice of christianity. The christian’s actions kill and cripple while the christian’s mouth drips with faked love, deception is the christian’s tool of choice.

    1. I’ll second that. Of Jerry’s selected photos for me the best is the child hearing for the first time: just a wonderful, stunned, wondering expression

  5. The pictures on the site are rather an uneven bunch, as far as “iconic pictures” that may “make you weep” are concerned. Not sure I would put a picture of Jewish WWII camp survivors in the same category as a a guy kissing a girl knocked over by police while rioting over a lost hockey match… Seriously.

    The Tienanmen square picture probably ranks as one of my all-time favourites. Many great and some better pictures are missing, and some perhaps speak more to Americans, but to be fair the collection only claims to be one of some of the best, not of the best overall. I myself would have included one or two Sebastiao Salgado pictures for example.

  6. Four good photos with dogs on that list, too.

    And most distinctly separately from that, in the category of powerful photos there’s one I saw once that perhaps fortunately I’ve never seen again. It was in a book I saw at the University bookstore maybe 15yrs ago, of images from the Russian revolution, and showed peasants ca. 1917 gathered around (IIRC) their landlord, who they had spitted (impaled). At the time I made a point not to note the title of the book, but somehow that pic summed up the level of incivility that the Revolution unleashed.

    A report (sans photo) of a female Chechen rebel some years back who was dismembered alive by Russian troops who chained her legs to separate trucks on their commander’s orders, “to boost their morale” or something like that, sounded like things had not changed much.

  7. The undeniable power of the human stories depicted notwithstanding, one thing should be noted about the koala shot is that the animals rarely if ever drink water in the wild as long as there’s adequate eucalyptus to feed on. The fact that “Sam” happily accepted a drink – from a human, no less – should indicate just how dire the circumstances of that day were.

    49 degrees Celsius, gale-force winds, 0% humidity and a small number of goddamned arsonists caused nearly 200 deaths and half a billion dollars worth of damage, with entire towns and communities literally burned to ashes. All this occurred an hour or so’s drive from Melbourne; as such even us here in the suburbs were wondering whether we’d have to evacuate to the beach or the city. We could smell – and see – the smoke in the air for the next fortnight.

    As a Red Cross employee during the firestorm, I saw and heard of both the most harrowing losses and the most inspiring acts of charity and humanity. While the event and the people who caused it were the worst I’d ever seen (I lived through Ash Wednesday of 1983), the outpouring of assistance was literally overwhelming – we collected more financial donations from Oz and abroad than we knew what to do with (e.g. several cheques of a million dollars each) and more material donations than could be distributed, or even stored. People were donating everything from clothes and toys to caravans and cars. Six, even twelve months afterwards (and 300 millon dollars later!) people were still asking if they could donate. I’ve since moved on from the non-profit sector, but that period at the RC was incredibly illustrative of how people, regardless of any differences, will just step up and help each other simply because the need is there – because others are suffering.

  8. I love the picture of the fire-fighter giving water to the koala. Not just because of the act of mankind caring for creatures, but for the paw in his hand.

    1. Another thing worth mentioning (though I think it’s pretty common worldwide) is that the vast majority of rural firefighters in Oz are volunteers, who give up their time and risk their lives to protect their neighbours. During Black Saturday a few firefighters actually lost their lives – and many lost their own homes – while out trying to save other peoples’ lives and protect their property. My grandfather and brother were volunteer fireys and the local brigades were instrumental in protecting my family’s property (near Adelaide) during the worst outbreaks of 1983 and 1986 so I have a lot of love for fireys in general! Add to that the fact that my mother hand-reared koalas and other marsupials at Adelaide’s local wildlife park, often bringing them home, and this pic of Sam is like a perfect storm of heartstring-tugging.

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