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.

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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.

Robert Doisneau pioneered the humanist photography movement
The Kiss: One of the world's more romantic photographs ¦ source: BBC - Atelier Robert Doisneau, 2016

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.

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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 his controversial photograph
The harrowing scene that shocked the world ¦ source:

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.

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Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl is an example of travel photography
McCurry's Afghan Girl appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 ¦ source: WFAE

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.

Widener captured this shocking image in China
Powerful, political and poignant ¦ source: globalnews - Jeff Widener/AP

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.

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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.

This image could be seen as landscape photography
This aerial image showed New Caledonia to the rest of the world ¦ source: Yann Arthus-Bertrand

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 is yet another example of humanist photography as well as war photography
Eisenstaedt's spontaneous snap echoes that of Doisneau ¦ source: NYDailyNews - ALFRED EISENSTAEDT/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES

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.

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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.

War photography means that photographers must often travel to dangerous areas
Nick Ut's Napalm Girl is an example of war photography ¦ source: All That's Interesting

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.

Taken in Colombia, this photograph depicts the pain experienced by Sanchez in her death
Frank Fournier's image portrays the reality of natural disasters ¦ source:

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.


Photographs have the power to capture emotion and present the world with shocking realities
This photograph depicts the desperation of a mother defending her home ¦ source:

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.

Saigon Execution is one of history's most powerful photos
Adam's shocking photograph helped bring an end to the war ¦ source: BBC - AP/BRISCOE CENTER FOR AMERICAN HISTORY

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.

This is an example of photojournalism and how it can have an international impact
The photograph of the three-year-old's body changes the view of many on the migrant crisis ¦ source: Al Jazeera

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.

This portrait of Che Guevara is a well-known icon for marxism
This portrait has become an icon ¦ source: smithsonianmag

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.


This photojournalistic piece from the 9/11 attacks is iconic
The publication of this photograph caused controversy in the press ¦ source: - AP Photo/Richard Drew

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.

This is one of the most iconic landscape photographs ever taken
Chuck O'Rear's Bliss is known by everyone who used Windows XP ¦ source: extremetech

Bliss rose to fame as the default desktop background for Windows XP.

Several of O’Rear’s other works have also been used as backgrounds.

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.

This is an example of documentary photography as well as photojournalism
Malcolm Browne was the only Western photographer at the scene of the incident ¦ source: Time Magazine

Malcolm Browne was the only Western journalist at the scene in 1963, and managed to capture a photograph which would mark history.

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.