Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | November 2, 2008

How Pictures Changed the World

I have always been fascinated with pictures, as an art form.  Taking pictures is actually not an easy thing to do – but done successfully, it can tell a whole story.   I wanted to show a very few pictures that were important in our history, and how they have changed the world.

This picture, taken by Daguerre, was one of the very first pictures ever taken.  Because it needed a very long exposure time, Daguerre actually had to pay that sweeper figure to stand there all day; in fact, this street was very crowded and full of passerbys that remained invisible to the eye of the camera because they went by too fast.  Pictures in that regard were a little bit like paintings; they took a long time, often had to be staged for that reason, were not candid, or spontaneous yet – but they were full of realism when they did come out.

Contrast this with Bresson’s image below.

Notice how the jumping figure echoes the one on the poster in the back (top left of the picture), and how the rule of thirds is well respected, the subject well framed.  This spontaneity was the pride of artists such as Henri-Cartier Bresson; although they could have simply asked someone to jump over that puddle, they sought reality; the readers of Life Magazines and other such publications where he and the others from the Magnum group would be published in expected the pictures delivered to be candid, and not staged.  And so, the genius of this picture is not only in the execution (taking this picture exactly at the height of the action), but also in forseeing when something could happen – that the puddle was bound to make someone stride above it sometime on that rainy day.  A form of artistic intuition.

Above is an image from Beaton, of a three year old little girl touched by the Blitz.  This is the era where photojournalism begins – bringing not only images for the artistic sake to the public, but really a new way of viewing the world.  Because of pictures such as these ones and the one below, by Robett Capa, aimed at awakening the public from their preconceived ideas.

Capa took this picture during the War of Normandy – he was then the only photographer present.  He took some 119 pictures during that trip of which only a dozen survived due to a mistake of a laboratory technician – this one is one of them.  The motion and blur which resulted of the technician’s overheating the film and bad manipulation did however convey the idea of movement and commotion that Capa was trying to document.  Capa brought a new angle to news – the soldiers were often glorified and war was a question of pride but by dodging the bullets and risking his life alongside soldiers, Capa was able to capture on film the daily life of soldiers and war, and to share those pictures with the rest of the world.  He was able to show that war was not the glorious thing it was pictured to be – but a horror and abomination.  Through pictures that showed humanity, he was able to raise awareness about peace wishes, and empathy, and many humanitarian movements streamed from there.

The Genius of Photography, a BBC documentary, talks about some of the pictures I showed above.  You can start by watching the part one of the first episode below – if you like it, why not google it to find out more?



  1. Thank you 🙂

    I just checked out your blog and it’s now in my favorites!! You take really cool shots! I like the one of your eldest daughter in B&W taken on nov 8th. Very nice!!

  2. Hi!
    The photo showing a woman with flower and havy armed solders as a symbol of peace offer is wounderful. Is it possible to show that picture on my commentary and intrepretation textes for biblical books of the New Testament, which I would like to publish as non-profit contributions on biblical website in german and portugues or in a personal blog. At the moment, those are projects for the future only, but my intention is to realize them. How can I get the permission for that photo and how would I indicate the owner?
    Regards from Peter

    • I am not sure who owns the picture quite frankly (it’s not me in either case)….

  3. la ragazza con il fiore non è di Capra ma di Marc Riboud

    • Gazie — non lo sapevo! Lo devo scrivere nel text 🙂

  4. The figure in the picture is of a man having his shoe shined , the exposure took approx’ 10 minutes and that is why he shows up in the picture . He wasn’t ” paid ” by the photographer it was a lucky occurrence for him . This is recorded in many other accounts of the circumstances surrounding the taking of this image .

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