Five photos that helped to change the world

There are photographs that change the world. A glimpse of the light hitting the film at just the right moment when something flashes through the lens and everything stops moving. When things begin moving again, the world is changed.

The photos shown here are certainly not the only photos that have changed the world, they are some of the photos though that have impacted people in my generation. If you were to pick photos, you may pick these, you may pick different ones. But that’s ok, the commonality is the photos changed the world.

Stop reading for a second and just let your eyes wander over the images. What was once a flesh-and-blood scene was first reduced to paper and ink and now further reduced to bits and bytes on your computer.

But the images remain. The impact is there. At some you almost want to hold your breath and look away. But you know the images have changed the world. Since you’re in the world, some small part of you is changed also.


“My goal, my dream, my passion is to make that photograph.  I want to capture the photograph that people 100 years from now can point to and say, “That made the difference”.  I don’t care if anyone remembers my name, but I want them to remember the image.” Jerry Nelson, Interviewed in Washington DC, 2011

This is another image that the world remembers from the Saigon area. The police chief of South Vietnam is seen firing a pistol at the head of a man suspected of being an officer from the Viet Cong. Feb 1, 1968. The image is a fitting example of a war crime, another reminder of the unnecessary atrocities that possibly innocent civilians could suffer at the hands of police and military officials.

In this June 8, 1972 file photo, crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places as South Vietnamese forces from the 25th Division walk behind them. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. From left, the children are Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)(Credit: AP)


Student Mary Ann Vecchio is seen here kneeling near the body of another student by the name of Jeffrey Miller. The anti-war demonstrations by students of the Kent State University went terribly out of hand on May 4, 1970. This image stands to remind us what a seemingly harmless demonstration, even for the right cause, can turn into when uncontrolled.

Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph  Seeking relief from the sight of masses of people starving to death, he wandered into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding center. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not, and after he took his photographs, he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle. Afterward he sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried. “He was depressed afterward,” Silva recalls. “He kept saying he wanted to hug his daughter.”  NOTE:  Three months after winning the Pulitzer Prize for this photo, Carter committed suicide.


That’s only four photographs you’re thinking.  You’re right.  The fifth one has yet to be made.  You and i will make that fifth photograph together.


The photograph that we will make together.

One day, the photograph that you and I make together will be in this spot.


On February 9, 2013, my gear bag was stolen with all my equipment in it.  Friends across three continents have pulled together to help me replace most of my camera gear.  I still need a laptop for processing and uploading photographs.  Your donation, whatever size, will help greatly!




Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist who covers primarily social justice issues.  Originally from Virginia in America, he now lives and works in Argentina and is available for assignments worldwide.  When not busy shooting, he contributes to Huffington Post, Examiner and others.

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