Few statements have remained truer throughout history than ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.
While some might look at a picture of the Titanic and think of man’s great feat of engineering, others might view it as a sign of our hubris, and what deathly consequences can arise from it.
A picture of JFK and Marilyn Monroe together elicits thoughts of power and controversy, popularity and politics, scandal and tragedy. We stare into the bright eyes of a soldier, and see him, almost bearing a smile; it might as well be a poster for Army recruitment, if not for the hand-written ‘War is Hell’ across his helmet.
We see a picture of Winston Churchill in a swimsuit, and without knowing who we’re looking at, simply see a random middle-aged man, rather than someone who literally moved borders, waged wars and helped to topple Hitler.
Alternatively, we see a picture of Albert Einstein, arguably one of the most brilliant minds the world has ever known, a man who helped to unlock the very secrets of the universe, yet there he is, humbly and unassumingly sitting on a rock, looking like someone’s grandfather.
When we look at pictures from the past, it takes us somewhere, to a world not yet built, one where fixtures of the present we live in are not yet real, the landscapes are different, and possibilities abundant. We find it hard to imagine a New York City without the Statue of Liberty, but there it is, being unpacked before the assembly. And it is near impossible to imagine Paris, without the Eiffel Tower, yet we can see pictures of it under construction, the landscape seemingly naked by today’s comparison.
Some photos seem innocent enough, and I suppose intrinsically they are, until they’re put into context. Who we are looking at, and what they have done– the proverbial ‘good, bad and ugly’. It’s both humanizing and terrifying to think of many of these larger than life individuals as anything close to human, but it is important to remember that is exactly what they are, just like you and I.
And it is in this reminder that we should all take a moment, and view where we came from, how far we have come, and how much further we still have to go.
1) 106-year-old Armenian Woman Guards Her Home, 1990
2) Adolf Hitler Meeting with Pope Pius XI
3) Alan Shepard, America’s First Man in Space Puts on his Navy Mark IV Spacesuit
4) Albert Einstein at the Beach
5) The Racial Segregation in the US South
6) Child Laborers in 1880
7) Construction of the Eiffel Tower in July, 1888
8) Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is returned to the Louvre after WWII
9) Elvis in the US Army, 1958
10) Execution by Cannon, Shiraz, Iran, Late 19th Century
11) Fidel Castro Lays a Wreath at the Lincoln Memorial
12) While Christ the Redeemer was being built in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
13) John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe
14) Mannequins from an Atomic Bomb Test Site in Nevada during the Mid-50s
15) Martin Luther King With His Son Removing a Burnt Cross from their Front Yard, 1960
16) Nagasaki, 20 Minutes after the Atomic Bombing in 1945
17) New York in 1900
18) Osama bin Laden with His Family Visiting Falun in Sweden in 70′
19) Shooting of Leo the Lion for the MGM Logo
20) Testing of new bulletproof vests, 1923
21) The Microsoft Staff in 1978
22) Titanic, 1912
23) Unknown Soldier in Vietnam, 1965
24) Unpacking the head of the Statue of Liberty, 1885
25) Winston Churchill in a Swimsuit, 1922