Photographs That Hold History
A photo can capture much more than what's put in front of the lens. In one moment and one limited frame, an entire piece of history can shine through.
These 30 incredible shots capture times past, but have cultural impacts that resonate even today. They are chilling, quotidian, and inspiring. They speak to our collective past.
1. Navajo medicine man, ca. 1904
New World Encyclopedia
This man's items were integral to his medicinal and ritual practices.
2. Medical students with cadavers, date unknown
The practice of cutting up dead bodies for research dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It appears one of the cadavers has fallen off the table.
3. Zeppelin over the Pyramids, 1931
Zeppelins were big in the 1930s, before the Hindenburg crash
4. A B-17 heavy bomber in production, 1942
Andreas Feininger, via Shorpy
These planes, known as the "Flying Fortress," were produced in Boeing's Seattle plant in the 1940s, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
5. Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter, 1870-1885
Due to its large size, this site in Baalbek, Lebanon, is often associated with the mythical Nephilim of Biblical lore.
6. Soviet nuclear test, 1965
Nuclear Weapon Archive
This was a test of a 140-kiloton bomb. For comparison, the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki was about 20 kilotons.
7. At a transit camp between American and Soviet zones, refugees and POWs try to get home.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Magnum Photos
Meanwhile, a Belgian woman is identified as a former Gestapo informant as she tries to hide in the crowd.
8. Paula Hitler, Adolph Hitler's youngest sister, 1945
After WWII, she was arrested and interrogated by U.S. intelligence officers. She died in the 1960s, having never married and with no children.
9. A young Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1967
Before he came to the U.S., Arnold enjoyed an Oktoberfest in Munich with a friend.
10. An elephant steps off a Ringling Brothers train car, 1963
Children watch as the pachyderm walks down a ramp in New York City.
11. Ty Cobb slides into home, 1920
It's not really a slide if you're in midair, but it doesn't matter with Cobb's record.
12. The 7th Panzer Divison, France, 1940
These tanks were highly successful in the Nazi occupation of France, but less so in Russia.
13. Civil rights activists train to remain stoic in the face of harassment, 1960
Eve Arnold, FT Magazine
Staging sit-ins and non-violent protests usually led to protesters being verbally and physically harassed, so they trained themselves not to react.
14. Survivors from the HMAS Armindale, 1942
Shipwrecked after their ship sank, survivors on a raft wave to a Catalina flying boat. Sadly, the water was too rough for the Catalina to land, and the raft disappeared soon after this photo was taken.
15. Coney Island put indigenous people on display, 1905
The Lost Tribe of Coney Island, Claire Prentice
In 1905, hundreds of indigenous people from the Philippines were put on display in various entertainment venues, performing rituals and dances for gawking onlookers. The insidious idea behind putting humans on display was that the natives in the Philippines and other areas were inferior to white people and thus colonizing them should be considered okay.
16. Chinese prisoners used as live targets for bayonet practice, 1938
During the Nanking Massacre, also called the Rape of Nanking, an estimated 200,000 Chinese citizens were brutally murdered by Japanese forces, who went out of their way to torture and brutalize them in horrific ways.
17. Halftime at the first Superbowl, 1967
In 1967, Len Dawson prepared for the final two quarters of the big game by smoking a cigarette and drinking a Fresca. Times were different.
18. A husband and wife in Korea, 1904
This was the traditional everyday dress in Korea at the turn of the last century.
19. A Cheyenne woman in Oklahoma, 1890-1904
The Native American cultures of North America had rich, complex cultures. Much of their history has been sadly lost thanks to the imperialism and racism that spread across the country in the 19th century.
20. Gandhi's worldly possessions, ca. 1948
The River 97.3
Gandhi, devoted to the ascetic life, possessed only these few things in his life.
21. The building of the Berlin Wall, 1961
Army Security Agency Veterans
The wall, which separated East from West during the Cold Wart
22. A soldier walks through the devastated landscape after the Battle of the Somme, 1916
The Great War
WWI battles would shred the land with mines, mortars, and trenches, the indentations of which can still be seen in the terrain today.
23. Dating sites, ca. 1901
As settlers pushed west, they started noticing that their populations tended to lean towards the male, so people would advertise for female settlers to ensure a lasting settlement. It worked.
24. Slave cells, Alexandria, VA, ca. 1865
Cells and pens like this were where enslaved people were kept while they waited to be auctioned off to a new owner and a new life of hardship.
25. IRA girls stop and search a man
The place and date of this photo is unknown, but these girls belong to the Northern Irish IRA group, which has staged numerous terrorist acts in the name of religious and political freedom from Great Britain.
26. A Hindenburg survivor smokes a cigarette, 1937
On May 6, the Hindenburg went down in flames. Evidently, this injured survivor didn't get quite enough smoke, and lit up while being carried to a hospital.
27. Escaping East Germany
Despite the fact that the border agents are so close, the girl in the photo has made it safely to the western side, and is considered safe. Eastern guards would not interfere for fear of starting a confrontation with the West, which would likely lead to a larger conflict.
28. Hitler meets with an injured soldier. Year unknown.
This soldier, suffering from severe frostbite, attempts to salute Hitler, but Hitler asks him not to, saying he should rest.
29. A medical class, 1910
Students and staff at a lesson in Gilbert's Surgical Amphitheater.
30. The first Secret Service,
The agents walked on either side of Theodore Roosevelt's carriage on his inauguration day, March 4, 1905. Roosevelt was the first president to employ the Secret Service. Their fashion has not changed much.
If there's one thing these photos show, it's that very much has changed, but at the same time, very much has stayed the same. These images will continue to be important as we continue on into the future so that we don't forget our past