Things We Learned In 2022 About 12 Of History's Most Intriguing Photos That Left Us Speechless



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Vote up the facts about these historical photos that leave you speechless. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. 

While the adage is meant to express the fact that sometimes a photo can capture what words can't, there are some images from history for which a thousand words may not be enough. The historical photos included here might just fall into that category. They're some of the best-known pictures ever taken, and in 2022, we discovered new and fascinating information about them. 

Just when we thought there might not be anything more to say - we proved ourselves wrong. In fact, what we learned pretty much left us speechless. Take a look and vote up the pictures from the past that take the words right out of your mouths, too. 

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    379 VOTES

    The Polish Girl Mourning Her Sister Survived Until 2020 And Never Forgave The Luftwaffe

    One of the most famous photos of WWII was taken just two weeks after the conflict started. It depicts a young girl, Kazimiera Mika (neé Kostewicz), kneeling in horror over the body of her older sister Anna, who has just been strafed by a Luftwaffe fighter pilot.

    The photo (actually a still frame from a motion picture) was taken by Julien Bryan, an American photographer and filmmaker who had been documenting life in Poland and Third Reich Germany since the mid-1930s. When the conflict began, he made his way to Warsaw, where he continued his work as Poland fell under German rule. He assembled some footage into a short documentary that screened in the US in 1940. Bryan, who passed in 1974, recalled taking the picture:

    As we drove by a small field at the edge of town we were just a few minutes too late to witness a tragic event, the most incredible of all. Seven women had been digging potatoes in a field. There was no flour in their district, and they were desperate for food. Suddenly two German planes appeared from nowhere and dropped two bombs only 200 yards away on a small home. Two women in the house were killed. The potato diggers dropped flat upon the ground, hoping to be unnoticed. After the bombers had gone, the women returned to their work. They had to have food.

    But the [German] fliers were not satisfied with their work. In a few minutes they came back and swooped down to within 200 feet of the ground, this time raking the field with machine-gun fire. Two of the seven women were killed. The other five escaped somehow.

    While I was photographing the bodies, a little 10-year-old girl came running up and stood transfixed by one of the dead. The woman was her older sister. The child had never before seen death and couldn't understand why her sister would not speak to her...

    The child looked at us in bewilderment. I threw my arm about her and held her tightly, trying to comfort her. She cried. So did I and the two Polish officers who were with me...

    Mika survived the conflict. She stayed in touch with Bryan, who returned to Warsaw in 1958 and again in 1974, shortly before he passed. Later, Bryan's son Sam continued the relationship, visiting her in 2019. Of the Luftwaffe pilots, she said, "I cannot, even after all these years, forgive them." Mika passed on August 28, 2020, at age 93, surviving her sister by almost 81 years.

  • The Photographer Took 'Napalm Girl' To The Hospital After Snapping The Picture
    Photo: Nick Ut, Associated Press / Wikipedia / Public domain
    304 VOTES

    The Photographer Took 'Napalm Girl' To The Hospital After Snapping The Picture

    On his way to the South Vietnamese village of Trang Bang on June 8, 1972, photographer Nick Ut captured a heartbreaking image called “The Terror of War" that later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The native of Vietnam, working for The Associated Press, said he was met by "thousands of refugees coming down the road" from the village. He continued:

    When I first saw the napalm explosion, I didn’t think there were any civilians in the village… Then I started to see people come out of the fireball and smoke. I picked up my [camera]... First there was a grandmother carrying a baby who died in front of my camera. Then I saw through the viewfinder… the… girl running. I thought, “Oh my God. What happened? The girl has no clothes."

    Ut kept taking pictures and captured an image of that 9-year-old girl, Phan Thi Kim, as well as her brothers and cousins in one single photo. He saw how burnt she was, and when her uncle asked Ut to take her to the hospital, he agreed:

    I was sure she was going to die any minute in my car. When we arrived at the hospital in Cu Chi, nobody wanted to help her because there were so many wounded soldiers and civilians already there.

    The hospital took her in and Ut left to develop his film. 

    Kim was later transferred to a hospital in Saigon and spent nearly a year there. Ut recalled: 

    After her picture came out on the front pages of so many newspapers, doctors from around the world volunteered to help her. It’s so lucky that she was photographed. If not, she would have died.

    Kim admitted that Ut's photo changed her life, but the photographer himself saved her:

    After he took the photo, he put his camera down, wrapped me in a blanket and whisked me off to get medical attention. I am forever thankful.

    In subsequent years, she underwent 17 operations. Eventually, she settled in Toronto after obtaining political asylum in Canada.

    As a teenager, Kim was full of resentment about her fate. "It built me up with hatred, bitterness, and anger," she recalled. "I just living with the question, why me. Why that happened to me? In 1982, I wanted to take my life, because I thought, after I die, no more suffer, no more pain."

    Shortly afterward, Kim converted to Christianity and found solace in the teachings of the New Testament. "I forgive everyone who caused my suffering, even the pilot, commander, people controlling me," she said. In subsequent years, she married, had a son, and established a charitable foundation to help children affected by conflict.

  • Malcolm Browne, Photographer Of The Burning Monk, Knew 'It Would Be Something Spectacular'
    Photo: Malcolm Browne for the Associated Press / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    247 VOTES

    Malcolm Browne, Photographer Of The Burning Monk, Knew 'It Would Be Something Spectacular'

    President John F. Kennedy said of Malcolm Browne's 1963 photo of Vietnamese monk Thích Quảng Đức that "No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” (In fact, Browne took several photographs of the incident, and the one Kennedy saw - taken later during the immolation -  was not the same as the photo at right, which has since become the most famous image in the series.)

    Quảng Đức was a Buddhist monk who spent years protesting Ngô Đình Diệm's treatment of his religion, which included banning the display of Buddhist symbols.

    Browne was an Associated Press war correspondent covering the story that year. He recalled that the Buddhists of Vietnam had been warning they would stage a memorable protest against Diệm's policies for months. He received a phone call stating, “Mr. Browne, I strongly advise you to come. I expect something very important will happen, but I cannot tell you what.” As he later recalled:

    I had some hint that it would be something spectacular, because I knew these monks were not bluffing. They were perfectly serious about doing something pretty violent. In another civilization it might have taken the form of a bomb or something like that.

    Browne was the only Western photographer to capture the events of that day, and the only one whose photographs were circulated worldwide. In 1964, his photo earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

  • 'Earthrise' Sparked An Environmental Movement
    Photo: NASA / Bill Anders / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    “Earthrise” was taken by astronaut Bill Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft on Christmas Eve 1968. As Apollo 8 orbited the moon, Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell witnessed the Earth rise over the moon.

    Their experience was a first for humanity, but the photo likely would not exist had it not been for Anders's quick thinking. As Borman turned Apollo 8, Anders marveled at the view of the Earth. He asked Lovell to find him some color film for his camera and they scrambled to frame the image:

    Lovell: Bill, I got it framed, it's very clear right here!

    [shutter click]

    Lovell: Got it?

    Anders: Yep.

    Lovell: Take several, take several of 'em! Here, give it to me!

    Anders: Wait a minute, just let me get the right setting here now, just calm down.

    Lovell: Take -

    Anders: Calm down, Lovell!

    Lovell: Well, I got it right - aw, that's a beautiful shot…Two-fifty at f/11.

    [shutter click]

    Anders: Okay.

    Anders took three pictures that day and commented, "We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth." 

    The picture taken from space sparked the environmental movement on Earth. As Anders explained: “People realized that we lived on this fragile planet and that we needed to take care of it.”

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    198 VOTES

    Child Laborer Sadie Pfeifer Married At 17 And Succumbed To A Stroke At 51

    American photographer Lewis Hine, working for the National Child Labor Committee, took numerous photos of children in unsafe or grueling conditions during the early years of the 20th century. He frequently had to work undercover, which helped turn public opinion against exploitation of children, and his work led to new child labor legislation.

    One of his most famous subjects was Sadie Pfeifer, whom he photographed in 1908 at a cotton mill in Lancaster, SC. She did not attend school beyond the second grade, got married at 17 and had one child. In the 1920s and '30s, Pfeifer continued to work in cotton mills. She passed of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1950, at the age of 51.

    In an interview decades later, her grandniece Vicki Pilkey related what family information had come down to her about her great-aunt. She said that, according to her father, Pfeifer "talked real slow and moved real slow." Asked about Pfeifer's early passing, Pilkey replied, "She worked all her life in the cotton mills, and that will age you."

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    196 VOTES

    The 'Migrant Mother' Was Identified In The 1970s And Complained She Couldn't 'Get A Penny' From The Photo

    Dorothea Lange was documenting migrant farmworkers for the federal government's Resettlement Administration when she took this striking 1936 photo of a migrant woman and her two young children. As Lange recalled:

    I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32.

    Her face creased by premature lines, the woman seemed far older than her years; the photo became one of the indelible images of the Great Depression.

    The identity of the "migrant mother" went unknown for decades, until, in 1978, she herself wrote a letter to The Modesto Bee. Her name was Florence Owens Thompson. A full-blooded Cherokee, Thompson had supported her six children by picking cotton after the passing of her husband. She would have two more children by another man by the time Lange photographed her. She married George Thompson, a hospital administrator, after WWII and settled in Modesto, CA.

    Thompson's letter was picked up in an AP story titled "Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo." In it, Thompson complained, "I wish she hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did."

    In 1983, when 79-year-old Thompson was suffering from cancer, her son Troy Owens told her story to the San Jose Mercury News. When the public learned of her plight, $35,000 in donations poured in to help her with medical expenses.

    In spite of the aid, Thompson perished that September. Still, her family was touched by the outpouring of support they had received. Owens recalled:

    None of us ever really understood how deeply Mama’s photo affected people. I guess we had only looked at it from our perspective. For Mama and us, the photo had always been a bit of curse. After all those letters came in, I think it gave us a sense of pride.