The three most famous photographs in the world

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Whilst many powerful and captivating images compete for the title of ‘most famous’, the three below are some of the most defining photographs in history.

Richard Drew’s ‘The Falling Man’ was taken at 9:41:15 am on 11 September 2011. This powerful image depicts a still-unknown man falling to his death following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. As workers on the upper floors of the WTC became trapped by flames and smoke, at least 200 people were seen falling or jumping from the building. Whilst the vertically straight nature of the man’s descent in this photo is strengthened by its symmetry with the lines of the building, other photographs showed him ‘tumbling’ in his fall. As it is so incredibly evocative, many who saw the image were pained by its disturbing content and asked for it to not be printed.

NASA image AS8-14-2383, known as ‘Earthrise’, was captured by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, which was the first mission to take man to the moon. Before snapping the black and white predecessor of this iconic shot, fellow astronaut Frank Borman commented: “Oh my God. Look at that picture over there. Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow! That is pretty.” Anders quickly grabbed a roll of colour film and shot the scene using a 250mm lens. Many say that this image helped start the environmentalist movement, as it shows the beauty of blue Earth, partially covered by clouds, against the stark blackness of space. The vivid hue of the planet also contrasts with the empty greyness of the lunar surface.

Many argue that ‘Tank Man’ (or ‘Unknown Rebel’) by Jeff Widener is the most iconic photograph of all time. During the anti-violence protests at Tiananmen Square, Beijing on 5 June 1989, one man had the courage to stand alone against a row of heavily armoured tanks to stop them temporarily. This was despite the Chinese military forcibly removing protestors just one day before and weeks of fierce protests. Only four photographers were able to take pictures of the event, and Jeff Widener’s became the most used by newspapers around the world. Taken hastily on Fuji 100 ASA colour negative film from the 5th floor of a hotel, the shot’s tight composition highlights the seeming futility of one man’s bravery in the face of military might.

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