Photographs have a strange and powerful way of shaping the way we see the world. The most successful images enter our collective consciousness, defining eras, making history, or simply touching something so fundamentally human and universal that they have become resonant icons all over the globe. To explore this unique influence, Photo Icons puts some of the most important photographic landmarks under the microscope.
From some of the earliest photography, such as Nicéphore Niépce’s 1827 eight-hour-exposure rooftop picture and Louis Daguerre’s famous 1839 street scene, through to Martin Parr, this is as much a history of the medium as a case-by-case analysis of social, historical, and artistic impact. We take in experimental Surrealist shots of the 1920s and the gritty photorealism of the 1930s, including Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.
We witness the power-makers (Che Guevara) and the heartbreakers (Marilyn Monroe) as well as the great gamut of human emotions and experiences to which photography bears such vivid witness: from the euphoric Kiss in Front of City Hall (1950) by Doisneau to the horror of Nick Ut’s The Terror of War, showing nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked toward the camera from South Vietnamese napalm.
Hans-Michael Koetzle is a Munich-based freelance author and journalist, focusing mainly on history and the aesthetics of photography. He has published numerous books on photography, including Die Zeitschrift twen (1995), Photo Icons (2001), Das Lexikon der Fotografen (2002), and René Burri (2004).