Culture & Literature
TIME 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time

TIME 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time

TIME 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time

Though modern technology now allows everyone with a phone to be a photographer, and hundreds of billions of new images are made and shared each year, still rare are images that possess an art, capture a moment, or deliver meaning that shapes or changes the way people think, that themselves become turning points of human experience. Now, after a thorough process that included thousands of interviews, the editors at TIME present the new special edition 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time. Turning slowly through this profound collection, you’ll find yourself riveted and deeply moved. After an examination of exactly what makes a photograph influential, you’ll encounter icons like Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square, and Neil Leifer’s Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston. Then, Evidence explores the importance of the camera as witness. Revisit Robert Capa’s D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, Abraham Zapruder’s JFK Assassination, Frame 313, the still-mysterious Tank Man phot by Jeff Widener, and many more. Last, consider the Innovations of Eadweard Muybridge’s The Hose in Motion, astronaut William Anders’ Earthrise, and Philippe Kahn’s First Cell-Phone Picture, to name only a few. Beyond the photos themselves, learn the stories behind the images, some uncovered and offered here for the first time. Whether you look to photographs to serve as art, journalism, or simply a selfie to share, 100 Photographs is an undeniably profound collection of historic images and a reminder of the potential importance of every camera’s click.

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Meredith Corporation
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in this issue

5 min.
defining influence

We began this project with what seemed like a straightforward idea: assemble a list of the 100 most influential photographs ever taken If a picture led to something important, it would be considered for inclusion From that simple concept flowed countless decisions Though photography is a much younger medium than painting—the first photo is widely considered to date from 1826—the astonishing technological advances since then mean that there are now far more pictures taken every day than there are canvases in all the world’s galleries and museums Hundreds of billions of images are made each year How do you narrow a pool that large? You start by calling in the experts We reached out to curators, historians and photo editors around the world for suggestions Their thoughtful nominations whittled the field,…

1 min.

One September day in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, the PR team for one of the world’s wealthiest clans set out to fan excitement for the family’s latest project: Rockefeller Center, some 6 million square feet of skyscraper space built on 22 acres in the heart of Manhattan. The team took a lot of photos that day, but only one became iconic. It showed 11 men sitting casually on a girder 800 feet above the pavement. They chat, scan newspapers, cadge a light, all while dangling their feet in an ocean of thin air. Lunch Atop a Skyscraper suggests the peril that yawned in 1932, when America, and the world, dangled over an abyss. And it contains the crazy confidence of a nation that knew the gravest…

1 min.
abraham lincoln

ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS a little-known one-term Illinois Congressman with national aspirations when he arrived in New York City in February 1860 to speak at the Cooper Union. The speech had to be perfect, but Lincoln also knew the importance of image. Before taking to the podium, he stopped at the Broadway photography studio of Mathew B. Brady. The portraitist, who had photographed everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to James Fenimore Cooper and would chronicle the coming Civil War, knew a thing or two about presentation. He set the gangly rail splitter in a statesmanlike pose, tightened his shirt collar to hide his long neck and retouched the image to improve his looks. In a click of a shutter, Brady dispelled talk of what Lincoln said were “rumors of my long…

1 min.
lunch atop a skyscraper

IT’S THE MOST perilous yet playful lunch break ever captured: 11 men casually eating, chatting and sneaking a smoke as if they weren’t 840 feet above Manhattan with nothing but a thin beam keeping them aloft. That comfort is real; the men are among the construction workers who helped build Rockefeller Center. But the picture, taken on the 69th floor of the flagship RCA Building (now the Comcast Building, better known as 30 Rock), was staged as part of a promotional campaign for the massive skyscraper complex. While the photographer and the identities of most of the subjects remain a mystery—the photographers Charles C. Ebbets, Thomas Kelley and William Leftwich were all present that day, and it’s not known which one took it—there isn’t an ironworker in New York City…

1 min.
couple in raccoon coats

TO MANY WHITE Americans in the 1930s, black people were little more than domestics or sharecroppers. They were ignored, invisible, forgotten. But that was not what James VanDerZee saw when he gazed through his camera lens. Seeking to counter the degrading and widely disseminated caricatures of African Americans in popular culture, VanDerZee not only photographed Harlem weddings, funerals, clubs and families but also chronicled the likes of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the poet Countee Cullen—the leaders, artists, writers, movers and strivers of the Harlem Renaissance. In his Guarantee Photo Studio and along the neighborhood’s streets, VanDerZee crafted portraits that were meticulously staged to celebrate the images his subjects wanted to project. And nowhere is this pride more evident than in his glowing picture of a…

1 min.
migrant mother

THE PICTURE THAT did more than any other to humanize the cost of the Great Depression almost didn’t happen. Driving past the crude “Pea-Pickers Camp” sign in Nipomo, north of Los Angeles, Dorothea Lange kept going for 20 miles. But something nagged at the photographer from the government’s Resettlement Administration, and she finally turned around. At the camp, the Hoboken, N.J.–born Lange spotted Frances Owens Thompson and knew she was in the right place. “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother in the sparse lean-to tent, as if drawn by a magnet,” Lange later wrote. The farm’s crop had frozen, and there was no work for the homeless pickers, so the 32-year-old Thompson sold the tires from her car to buy food, which was supplemented with birds killed…