People Break Down The Single Greatest Photographs In History
Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Photographs hold a special place in our society. They remind us of precious memories with friends and family, they let us share the ridiculous things our pets do with the world, they teach us about the state of the world far away from us, they've even become a form of shorthand communication in the form of image macro memes.

The phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words" is definitely a cliche for a reason.

Content Note: This article contains some very disturbing imagery.


Redditor Curlaub asked:

"What do you think is the single greatest photograph in history?"

Explosive

"This one makes my heart race every time."

"A pickup truck flees from the pyroclastic flows spewing from the Mt. Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines."

- Thuxedo

Space

"The photo of Bruce McCandless floating untethered in space:"

"https://www.nasa.gov/astronautprofiles/mccandless"

- that-one-man

NASA.gov

"That is f**king terrifying."

- TheWolfAndRaven

"Imagine skydiving and the chute fails, but instead of having a couple of minutes to contemplate your fate as the ground rapidly approaches, you have hours as you slowly drift off into space, wondering whether your suit radio will go before your oxygen does, knowing there's nothing you can do but watch everything every other human has ever known drift away from you for all eternity."

- vonmonologue

Prepare

""Prepare to meet thy God"

A bomb disposal expert walks to defuse a potential explosive device in Northern Ireland (1970)"

- YouKnowABitJonSnow

Deep Space

"The first Hubble Deep Field"

- WannaWaffle

ESA/Hubble

"Context for anyone who doesn't know what the Deep Field is:"

"Back in the day, NASA asked 'hey, what do you reckon is out there where there's no stars?'"

"So to answer this, they pointed the hubble telescope at a spot in the night sky where nothing was visible. No stars, no galaxies, no nothing. To our understanding on that day, there was nothing there. Maybe one or two galaxies would shine dimly in the distance, with light so faint from so far away that we couldn't pick it up with conventional imagery."

"But instead of hubble giving us an image of darkness and emptiness (Which is ostensibly what most people though was out there before this image) it beamed back THAT."

"THAT is what is all around us. Pick a tiny speck of the night sky between any two stars, and zoom in far enough, and this is what you see. Galaxies, thousands of them, stretching off into infinity."

"Every speck of light in that image is a new galaxy, comprising millions to billion of stars."

"And when Hubble first looked there, we thought it was empty."

"This isn't the night sky. This is past the stars. This is in between, beside, and behind every single star in the sky. Galaxies stretching off into infinity, innumerable to count."

"Close your thumb and forefinger into a circle, so there's a tiny gap you can look through. Now hold your arm out to the sky and look through the gap. That picture would fit in that gap (probably, I'm not a mathematician or an astronomer but just go with me on this)"

"Now move your hand back and forth across the sky and remember that picture every single time your hand moves."

"That is what we discovered the day that image was made."

"More recently, NASA released the 'ultra deep field' which is much the same thing. An image that is one ten-millionth of the sky."

"The following link is to that image and is 60 megabytes (so be warned if you're on mobile) http://zebu.uoregon.edu/hudf/hudf.jpg"

"That, times ten million is what is around us."

- Why-so-delirious

The Burning Monk

"My vote would go to the burning monk"

- Curlaub

"David Halberstam wrote:"

"'I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think… As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.'"

- BownSawIsReady

Horror of Horrors

"The last Jew in Vinnitsa, 1941"

- shaokim

"This photo came to mind as well. World War II is such a bottomless well of history."

- kpwill96

"It was arguably the first truly "'modern' conflict (although that title is sometimes awarded to WWI, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, depending on context), and was thus the first time in history that war could be captured in such remarkable detail. Widespread photography allowed moments of unimaginable strife, conflict, and horror to be preserved indefinitely, and thereby permeate public consciousness. It was the point at which the focus of war journalism shifted from large-scale statistics to the experiences of individuals, whenceupon newspapers could show an entire nation the fear in one young man's eyes, or the inhumanly thin, spindly limbs of a woman who starved to death. Looking back, this seems like the moment the world realized, 'why are we doing this to ourselves; this is horrible.'"

- aronenark

upload.wikimedia.org

Aid From the Padre

"The priest and the dying soldier by Héctor Rondón Lovera"

- Deleted User

"The priest was known in the town and so neither side shot at him. He spent the battle picking up the wounded and giving last rites to the dying. Here are more: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/priest-dying-soldier-1962/"

- Deleted User

upload.wikimedia.org

Rope Tricks

"For me it's this picture of a nuclear blast a fraction of a second after it detonated, by Harold Eugene Edgerton"

- thesnowguard

"Is there a size reference for how big this is?"

- syntaxlegend

"I had a presentation about this once, really interesting stuff. This is about 100 ft / 30m in diameter."

"You can read more about it here and here (also more photos). They look eeriely unnatural. Video of it"

- JMB-X

upload.wikimedia.org

Oldest Photo of a Person

"https://unitedcats.wordpress.com/2007/06/12/worlds-oldest-photograph-of-a-human-being/"

- giantmantisshrimp

"And the only reason they got it was because the one guy was getting a shoeshine, so they were pretty much motionless for a while. It's interesting how you can become famous completely unexpectedly--and in this case, presumably even unknown to you yourself. This guy probably got his shoes done, paid, and went about his day, and he had no idea that people decades later would be seeing it happen and that it'd be one of the world's most significant images."

- macphile

upload.wikimedia.org

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper

"I really like this one picture where workers in New York (I think) are doing construction on a skyscraper and they're all sitting on this giant steel beam that's just hanging hundreds of feet in the air. It's called lunch atop a sky scraper. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunch_atop_a_Skyscraper"

- Deleted User

"Almost every lifetime journeyman Ironworker I know has this picture [in] their home somewhere"

- dougielou

upload.wikimedia.org

Transplant

"Zbigniew Religa after first 24 hours heart transplant operation."

"The patient outlived him."

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CvYdrBdWgAAaX93.jpg

iuve

pbs.twimg.com

Double Helix

"Photo 51, the first photo showing the structure of DNA; image taken by Rosalind Franklin in 1952." - MalevolentGoblin

"Just a small correction - this shows the X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA, not the DNA itself. The pattern was used to deduce the helical nature of DNA." - FluffyCloud5

upload.wikimedia.org

Earliest Born Person

"Hannah Stilley. Earliest born person ever photographed. She was 10 yo when Mozart was born. She lived the French Revolution and the creation of the US. Just think about it." - UncleVolk

i.imgur.com

Photography can expose us to knowledge and experiences far outside our own lives, but it's important to remember that a photo never tells the whole story. Context matters.