How Important is One Photograph?

Blog Author Richard Newman

Can you think of a single photograph that changed your world? This month I want to investigate several photographs in this blog, and I’m all set for a big finish. So, stay till the end!

Charles Porter's photograph, "Oklahoma City, OK 4-19-95", of firefighter Chris Fields holding a dying infant won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1996. This image was made with a disposable camera that was on the seat of his car.

Dorothea Lange was working for the FSA during the Great Depression when she saw a woman who was starving and had just sold the tires off her car to buy food. Dorothea photographed that woman in "Migrant Mother". This single photograph brought emergency relief to those affected and also realization to the world…pretty big stuff.

When Ansel Adams made “Monolith, The Face of Halfdome”, he experimented with a red filter at high altitudes, did some math in his head and changed the way the western landscape had been seen. A very interesting detailed account of the events that day can be found here.

For me, I was most moved by a photograph by Natalie Forbes of Prince William Sound directly after the Exxon Valdez found some rocks in the middle of the night. I saw it on the front page of the New York Times on a Sunday. I was in the gulf on a float plane 2 days later and never looked back. When I returned to Southern California 10 days later, I gave up my professional photo clients and went to work on what I felt was really important; preview Natalie’s work here.

All of these are world-changing images, and I’m sure we could go on for a long list, but I want to get to the big finish: who invented modern air travel? Everybody knows Wilbur and Orville’s story of being the first to sustain controlled, self-powered flight on December 17, 1903, as it was documented by photographs.

News flash: they weren’t the first. In 2013, Gustave Whitehead was officially recognized as being the father of modern aviation, having made his first flight in 1901, which was longer and earlier than the Wright Brothers' flight. Why did it take over 100 years to get the facts straight? No photographs were made of Gustave’s first flight, unlike the Wright Brothers, who were apparently better marketers. Gustave’s story is wonderful; read it here.

I don’t know if I answered the question that I posed at the beginning of this blog. However, I will throw this out: you may not know the importance of a photograph while you’re taking it, but you’ll NEVER know unless you take it!

I would love to hear about images that changed your world. Just email me at

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