Photographs That Changed Humanity Forever


Photographs that changed humanity

A picture is worth a thousand words, memories and opportunities for history and culture to unfold before our eyes. They have taken us from Gettysburg to Mars, from in utero to outer space. As of 2011, Facebook had over 100 million uploaded photos and counting. In a nutshell, looking at pictures seems to be one of our favorite pastimes.

A Teaching Tool

Photos can be invaluable tools to help our children get a glimpse of history. Creating technology to bring photos into the classroom was a spectacular feat, but now that we can do things like scan images and convert slides to digital images, using them to teach and share knowledge is more important than ever before. The photographs below helped define more than the medium, they helped build history.

The First Photograph

The first official photograph, “View from the Window at La Gras,” was taken by Joseph Niépce. It was taken in 1826 using a technique called heliography, which uses a photosensitive pewter plate coated in a mixture of bitumen and lavender oil. Although the rooftop, chimney and barn are barely visible and damaged from wear and tear, this remnant marks the first time a human ever successfully painted with light from the sun. It is a truly remarkable feat.

photographs that changed humanity

The Civil War

Although history is framed by brutal wars, it wasn’t until the photograph arrived that the civilian world was exposed to the true horrors of battle. It was then that we realized photography could tell a tale equally as heart-wrenching as any poem or story of what life was like for those on the front lines. Civil War photographers like Mathew Brady and Timothy O’Sullivan are still highly revered for their vivid images of suffering, violence, destruction and the heroes that built our nation.

Civil Rights

Without photographs, we wouldn’t be able to empathize with many of the struggles in daily life that occurred in very recent history. As society advances, it’s easy to forget about the stark differences in daily life that our grandparents experienced. Photographers like Elliot Erwitt and Russel Lee brought the struggles of the African American into the limelight and onto the front page. The stark truths of life before men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X made their way into the spotlight are painful and astonishing, but gaining insight through images helps us to understand what they went through.

Outer Space

Are we alone in the universe? How did we get here? What does infinite truly mean? These are questions that every generation has asked in one way or another, and with the invention of photography, we have learned so much about the universe that life will never be the same. Images from our Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity have shown us that Mars could have supported life at one point, and the learning doesn’t stop there. High definition images from satellites have given us insights into stars, planets and meteorites that could ultimately answer age-old questions of how we got here and what our purpose is.


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