40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Captured in the Last Century

It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. More than words, though, photographs can stir up countless feelings. Photojournalists are especially skilled at choosing just the right time and angle to suspend time and set a compelling scene. This compilation of 40 of the most powerful pictures ever taken will flood you with a sea of emotion:

These images, which range from devastating losses to celebratory reunions, are a testimony to the idea that pictures are worth more than words. One split second in time, recorded by an astute photographer, can forever evoke tears of joy or sorrow. Photographs are capable of capturing a piece of the human spirit. Which iconic photograph is most powerful to you?

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28 responses to “40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Captured in the Last Century”

  1. kali says:

    Oh. .. I cried so much

  2. ola says:

    Tears of sadness and hapiness to witness all these captured moments of life…

  3. Angie says:

    Could you put the photographers’ names please…

  4. Vinny Ciro says:

    How can they possibly leave out the raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima?

    Semper Fi,
    Vinny Ciro
    Former Sgt. U.S.M.C.

  5. J. Betsill says:

    In my humble opinion the most iconic photo was from the Nam war of the little girl running barefoot down a mud road to get away from a bombing that ‘may’ have been her home and for sure her village.
    The horrified expression on her face told more than a million words could and showed how horrible war is on civilians; particularly children..

  6. Dave A says:

    Can’t help but shed a tear at these images…

  7. Ann Courtney says:

    So many tears shed, and rightly so. All humanity is here.

  8. Luke says:

    Whoever selected is showing (her, his, their) age – young. Where are “burning Girl” from the Vietnam War and Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and others?

  9. Alan I says:

    I agree with the little girl in Viet Nam. Similarly, I recall a haunting picture of a young Afghani girl with piercing green eyes staring straight into the camera.

  10. Tony Murtagh says:

    Some wonderful thought provoking images, but must agree that there equally powerful ones from earlier in the century

  11. Didier V says:

    I don’t agree that these are the 40 most powerful pictures. They are mostly about war and “sad” events which made the front page of the tabloid papers. IMHO, the concept of “powerful picture” is subjective and very much driven by the person emotional sensors.

  12. Rick says:

    What a set!
    Yeah, there are other great pictures around, but it’s great to see there are others such as powerful and moving.
    It makes me sad, though, that all but three are from violent events (disasters, wars, conflicts, attacks). So many pictures taken and still, they keep happening. I wish for a time when images like these are valuable because there are so few (if any) being taken.

  13. Michelle King says:

    I can’t pick which is more powerful but the one of Jackie still wearing a blood stained coat, really sad and the other one with the 8 yr old boy receiving the flag at his fathers funeral, most sad. Does it make it powerful? Absolutely! But they all provoke thoughts and comments. So asking which one is more powerful, in my opinion is not a fair question since they all are “some” of the greatest moments (good or bad) taken in pictures/photographs.

  14. Nancy Armstrong says:

    These images are very moving, and as a photographer I have to ask myself if I would have the courage to shoot such an emotional and personal moment. Sadly I’m not sure I could say yes, but I am thankful they were captured.

  15. Lori says:

    Amazing pictures, many of which I had not seen before. Remember though, it says “40 *OF THE* Most Powerful…” not *THE* 40 Most Powerful…

  16. Ruzana says:

    I can’t stop … I’m crying … Priceless …

  17. Pat says:

    Just asking…Why ‘POWER’ has not been associated to ‘SUCCESS’, ‘ACHIEVEMENT’, ‘DREAMS COME TRUE’ ?
    I agree that these pictures are emotionally powerful, but also are those frozen moments of of history with great achievements from doctors, scientists, biologists, athletes, sportsmen and many others. Try to think about it.

  18. Hatem Kotb says:

    Astonishing & some are very touching!

  19. Sufian Alanovic says:

    With all respect to Terri Gurrola and the unification with her daughter, this photo ignores the remaining 1 million dead and permanently defected Iraqi civilians as result of that war. A war that was purely the US’s choice and one driven purely by money. I can think of hundreds of photos of the Iraqi war that are more powerful than this. Absolutely scandalous.

  20. Davis Gunn says:

    The photo of the little boy hearing for the first time, surely got to me. Most of us will never know what this is like, but the expression in his eyes certainly says it all. Very we’ll captured. Very moving photos.

  21. Jess Bailey says:

    I would have included just about any image taken by the master, Ansel Adams. Certainly the famous National Geographic cover photo of the Afghan girl with the perching eyes. My personal favorite, the image of Walt Disney walking alone at Disneyland. I don’t recall the photographer, but it is a very simple, but powerful image of a person that has likely brought more joy and entertainment to the world than any other human being. And continues to do so, years after his passing.
    I completely agree with Vinny’s remark, the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima should certainly be considered as one of the most powerful and significant images ever taken.

  22. marc says:

    Interesting attempt and set of photos, and just like lists of “top 100” or “top 50” of (fill in the blank….movies, music, books, etc) this list will provoke the usual range of replies.

    What I find more interesting is how many of these images are associated with armed conflict, potential armed conflict, or the results of armed conflict. The answer tells us a great deal about where are energies have been spent since the time photography came into practical use.

  23. Chuck says:

    As a site dedicated to photography, it’s really disappointing that there is not credit or attribution to the actual photographers.

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