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The 9 Most Important Photographs Ever

Putting together a ‘Top-anything’ list is near-impossible, especially if one tries to declare the list as absolutely authoritative on behalf of the human race – past, present or future.

My list is simply my list, of what I feel is the most important. At best, it is a starting point for further discovery, research and knowledge.

So what qualifies as ‘important’? I imagine photos that are worth preserving not just based on their content, but on the nature of their creation, can truly be called important. The very act of capturing these photographs was a historically significant event, so commendable an achievement by the photographer, in fact, that it would be a shame for the human race to forget (or worse, lose) them for ever.

Here they are, counting down from 9:


Man vs Himself, or the nature of Injustice


If producing progeny is a core function of any living organism, then destroying one’s seed is the beginning of the end. To make matters worse, the perpetrators of this horrendous tragedy have escaped justice, seemingly forever. To read more about the Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the worst cases of industrial disasters ever witnessed, click here.

Photographer: Pablo Bartholomew (1984)


Man vs Man, or the nature of Atrocity

What do you do when you see a mushroom cloud? Cheer and clap? What do you say about something that can erase an entire city off the map? What do you say to something that can erase photography itself? Everything becomes meaningless. No more lessons to be learnt, no more dreams to be had, no more love to be shared.

Photographer: S/Sgt. George R. (Bob) Caron (1945)


Man vs Machine, or the nature of Despair

The identify of the Tank Man is a subject of speculation. His heroism is not, and I think that was the point he was making. If man can start machines, he can also stop them.

Photographer: Jeff Widener (1989)


Man vs Nature, or the nature of Heroism

Surely this is man’s greatest achievement. The act is typical Man – ignore problems at home and hunt for challenges elsewhere. But you can’t dispute the heroism, offering a ray of hope that nothing any man or prophet has ever conjured. If there’s one thing that can silence Man’s narcissism and hubris, it’s space.

Photographer: William Anders (1968)


Man vs Evolution, or the nature of Death and Reproduction

Russell A. Kirsch and his team probably created the first digital image in 1957. This image is a mere 176×176 pixels.

Technology’s paradigm shift towards digital systems happened under the average consumer’s nose. Not many people realize the significance of digital media. A digital file is the only method currently known to man that is capable of being reproduced ad infinitum without information loss. Impressed?

Photographer (Actually Image-maker): Russell A. Kirsch (1957)


Man vs Art, or the nature of Equality

The first color photograph. Photography was the first medium to include many visual art forms in its repertoire. With the birth of color, it became an art form to be reckoned with. The number of photographs taken yearly is possibly greater than the number of visual artworks available on Earth.

Man might not have a word for something, but he’ll surely have a photo of it.

Photographer: James Clerk Maxwell (1861)


Man vs Importance, or the nature of Priorities

This is supposedly the ‘first light photograph ever taken’, whatever that means. Of all the things painted by light, the photographer chose his own mug, which is not a bad one, by the way. Which is why I consider this the first work of photographic art.

Photographer: Robert Cornelius (1839)


Man vs The Idea, or the nature of the battle between Heart and Mind

Every art needs a trigger. This image, said to be first showing actual human beings, was the trigger photography needed. It is strange that the artist chose this composition, which includes the maximum number of elements, both manmade and natural, as the first.

Later on, he would have ample time to pick and choose; not to mention zooming in.

Photographer: Louis Daguerre (1838)


Man vs the Beginning, or the nature of Birth and Creativity

What else could be number one except the first photograph ever taken? The nature of converting light into permanent images began with photons acting on chemicals, and stayed that way for a hundred years. Today it is light on silicon-based sensors, tomorrow it might be something else.

This is the record of a birth of the nature of recording. No other medium of art or science has managed to preserve a record of its birth. Surely something so precious deserves to be preserved?

Photographer: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1826/27)

Well, that’s my top 9 photographs based on their importance. Have I missed any?