Iconography Part One: 1900-1950

I have a friend, Neil, who is an extremely talented photographer. A contemporary of my parents, he recently sent me a picture of my mother, then aged 21. It is, without question, the best picture I have seen of her. It’s also in black-and-white, which got me thinking – the majority of the really startling images I can think of are monochrome. There are one or two exceptions, of course, but by and large the starkness of those images is what helps make them compelling.

And from there it was but a short step to see if I could put together a post of those images – a sort of photographic guided tour of the 20th century or so. I hope most of these will be familiar to you…but also that there are one or two you don’t recognise.

The Wright Brothers' 'Flyer' airborne in 1903

The Wright Brothers’ ‘Flyer’ airborne in 1903

A father and son playing on the deck of the Titanic, 1912

A father and son playing on the deck of the Titanic, 1912

The German declaration of War is announced on 2/8/1914 in Munich. A young and jubilant Adolf Hitler is in the crowd.

The German declaration of War is announced on 2/8/1914 in Munich. A young and jubilant Adolf Hitler is in the crowd.

Up the Line to Death: British troops file through the trenches before going 'over the top'.

Up the Line to Death: British troops file through the trenches before going ‘over the top’.

Incessant shelling made a moonscape of the forests of France and Belgium.

Incessant shelling made a moonscape of the forests of France and Belgium.

Vimy Ridge, 1917

Vimy Ridge, 1917

Although later revealed as a fake, this famous 1917 photograph at one point had Arthur Conan Doyle convinced.

Although later revealed as a fake, this famous 1917 photograph at one point had Arthur Conan Doyle convinced.

The unbroken seal on Tutankhamum's tomb, 1922

The unbroken seal on Tutankhamum’s tomb, 1922

The Migrant Mother - the defining image of the Great Depression

The Migrant Mother – the defining image of the Great Depression

Construction workers, New York

Construction workers, New York

The Hindenburg disaster, 1937

The Hindenburg disaster, 1937

The Rise of Hitler: Nuremburg, 1938

The Rise of Hitler: Nuremburg, 1938

The Fall of France, 1940

The Fall of France, 1940

St Paul's Cathedral after an air raid, 1940

St Paul’s Cathedral after an air raid, 1940

The USS Shaw explodes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7/12/1941.

The USS Shaw explodes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7/12/1941.

Raising the flag on Iwo Jima, 1945

Raising the flag on Iwo Jima, 1945

A statue observes the devastation of Dresden.

A statue observes the devastation of Dresden.

Victorious Red Army soldiers raise the flag over the Reichstag.

Victorious Red Army soldiers raise the flag over the Reichstag.

A sailor celebrate VJ day with a nurse. Times Square, New York.

A sailor celebrates VJ day with a nurse. Times Square, New York.

The Walk to Paradise Garden, 1946

The Walk to Paradise Garden, 1946

Clarence Hailey Long, pictured here in 1949, was the inspiration for the cultural icon that was the Marlboro Man.

Clarence Hailey Long, pictured here in 1949, was the inspiration for the cultural icon that was the Marlboro Man.

A grief-stricken American infantryman is comforted, Haktong-ni, 28/8/1950

A grief-stricken American infantryman is comforted, Haktong-ni, 28/8/1950

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About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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2 Responses to Iconography Part One: 1900-1950

  1. Browne the Younger says:

    Suprised at some of the photos you left out, particularly these: http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/pacificwar/265.jpg (voted the best picture of the pacific war, a japanese kamikaze is shot down before it can attack the USS Kitkun Bay off the Marianas.)
    http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/4048-1539 (a Zero flies into the USS Iowa)
    https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~kmmurray/The%20Longest%20Day/Normandy%20beach%20coming%20off%20boat.jpg (probably the best-known image of the normandy landings)
    and:

    • Gavin says:

      Basically, I was pressed for space and there are other pictures that do those jobs better. The defining image of the Pacific war is absolutely the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. Nothing else even comes close. (The problem with the first of the two Pacific images you argue for is that there are no visible human beings: that picture is ‘Plane Attacks Ship’ not ‘Japanese Airman Attack American Sailor’. The second photograph is dramatic but requires additional contextualisation in a way that the other WW2 photos do not.) Equally, although the Normandy landings are an important *event*, it is harder to find a truly iconic *photograph*. If you’re looking for an iconic photograph of an Allied soldier coming ashore from a landing craft, you’re much better served by MacArthur returning to the Phillippines. (Less important event; much better-known photograph). Finally, the atomic explosion over Hiroshima has two problems. First of all, again, there are no human figures. Secondly, we don’t associate mushroom clouds with WW2 but rather the Cold War – hence my inclusion of the Hardtack/Oak photograph in Part Two.
      Gavin.

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