More Powerful Iconic Photos With Backstories
From “napalm girl” to “tank man,” we’ve all seen these famous photos, but how many of us actually know the true stories behind them?
Although millions have seen Kevin Carter’s 1993 photo of this starving child in famine-plagued Sudan, far fewer know that the child actually lived while Carter himself, who was criticized for not intervening, did not — he killed himself a year later, explaining in his suicide note that he was destroyed by guilt and pain over taking photos just like this one. Kevin Carter/Wikimedia
This photo depicting the execution of Viet Cong soldier Nguyễn Văn Lém by South Vietnamese officer Nguyễn Ngọc Loan in Saigon on Feb. 1, 1968 became a symbol of the Vietnam War’s senseless brutality and helped turn American sentiment against the war. However, while the photo does indeed depict a sudden, violent, summary execution, few realize that Lém was no innocent civilian or even a prisoner of war, but instead a guerrilla terrorist who had just been caught murdering the wife, children, and 80-year-old mother of a South Vietnamese officer, a friend of Loan’s, by slicing their throats.
Thanks to persistent propaganda, many, including NPR, believe this photo of nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc fleeing while suffering from napalm burns near Trang Bang, Vietnam on June 8, 1972 to epitomize the brutality of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. However, in reality, this strike was a South Vietnamese operation with no U.S. involvement, and was actually a mistake by a plane not intended to drop its load on the village in question. However, on the brighter side, because photographer Nick Ut helped get Phuc to an American hospital, he was able to save her life.Nick Ut/Associated Press/Library of Congress
On June 5, 1989, one day after Chinese troops had massacred pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, a lone man carried out one of history’s most well-known acts of resistance when he stepped into the path of several oncoming tanks. What may be surprising is not only that this man has never been identified, but also that he wasn’t the only person to carry out that particular act of resistance that morning, but was in fact one of many — who were simply not immortalized on film.Jeff Widener/Associated Press/Wikimedia