Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community. In creating propaganda, people will focus on a specific set of facts that will elicit an emotional reaction in a population. If angered, humans will often overlook rational information. In the history of photography, thousands of famous images have been taken. Governments have popularized many of these pictures as a form of propaganda. Photographs give the human brain an opportunity to interpret a specific environment. This article is going to examine ten famous photographs and their remarkable stories.
10. Lee Harvey Oswald and His Rifle
According to four U.S. government investigations, Lee Harvey Oswald is the sniper who killed John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. On March 31, 1963, Marina Oswald captured a collection of photographs showing Lee Harvey Oswald in his backyard with a rifle in hand. Along with the gun, the photographs show Oswald holding two Marxist newspapers, The Militant and The Worker. He is wearing a .38 caliber revolver on his waist. In 1978, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) determined that the rifle in the picture was the same used to shoot Kennedy. The revolver was also determined to be the weapon used to kill Officer J. D. Tippit following the assassination. The collection of photos is widely recognized as some of the most significant evidence against Oswald.
The pictures have been subjected to rigorous analysis and many people have claimed they are altered. Oswald insisted they were forgeries. Some inconsistencies include unnatural lines in Oswald’s face, an identical background in all three photographs, unnatural shadows, and inconsistent body length between pictures. In 1978, a British forensic photography expert named Malcolm Thompson determined that the pictures were fakes. However, after seeing the evidence presented by the HSCA investigation, Thompson recanted his conclusion and agreed that the backyard pictures were genuine. After digitally analyzing the photograph of Oswald holding the rifle and paper, computer scientist Hany Farid concluded that the photo was “almost certainly not altered.”
On February 21, 1964 the picture of Lee Harvey Oswald in his backyard was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine. It was also placed on the front page of the Free Press. Certain alterations were visible between the two photographs. The Free Press picture completely removed the rifle’s scope. The occurrence caused distrust and fueled conspiracy theories.
9. Annie Edson Taylor
Niagara Falls is the most powerful collection of waterfalls in North America. They are situated on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario and forms the international border between Ontario and New York. The Horseshoe Falls drop about 173 feet (53 m), while the height of the American Falls varies between 70–100 feet (21–30 m) because of the presence of giant boulders at its base. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls are located on the American side, separated from the main falls by Luna Island. On October 24, 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She accomplished the feat on her 63rd birthday. Taylor used a custom-made barrel for her trip, constructed of oak and iron and padded with a mattress.
Annie Taylor was set adrift near the American shore, south of Goat Island. The Niagara River currents carried the barrel toward the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, which has since become the site for all daredevil stunting activity at Niagara Falls. After the plunge, rescuers reached Annie’s barrel and she was found alive. Taylor was relatively uninjured, except for a small gash on her head. Annie Taylor told the press, “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat. I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.” In 1911, Bobby Leach became the second person to travel over Niagara Falls in a barrel. In the fall, Leach broke both knee caps and fractured his jaw.
Two days before Annie Taylor’s own attempt, a domestic cat was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength. Contrary to rumors at the time, the cat survived the plunge unharmed and later posed with Taylor in photographs.
8. Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst is the granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. On February 4, 1974 the 19-year-old Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California apartment by a left-wing urban guerrilla group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). The Symbionese Liberation Army was an American terrorist organization born out of a number of radical prison advocacy groups. After Hearst was kidnapped, she was taken to a house in Daly City, California and kept in a closet. After 57 days of being blindfolded, gagged and tied up, Hearst was indoctrinated with SLA political literature.
The SLA demanded that the Hearst family distribute $70 worth of food to every needy Californian, an operation that would cost an estimated $400 million. Hearst’s father arranged for the immediate donation of $6 million worth of food. In response, Patty Hearst was never released. On April 3, 1974, Patty announced on an audiotape that she had joined the Symbionese Liberation Army and assumed the name Tania. She became a well-known victim of Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a phenomenon where hostages express positive feelings towards their captors. It is a condition caused by extreme mental and physical abuse.
On April 15, 1974 Patty Hearst was photographed wielding an M1 carbine rifle while robbing the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. Cameras were able to capture Patty as she yelled “I’m Tania, up against the wall.” The images of Hearst quickly spread around the world. A warrant was issued for her arrest and in September 1975, Patty was arrested in a San Francisco apartment with other SLA members. Patty Hearst was convicted of bank robbery on March 20, 1976 and was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. Her sentence was later commuted to seven years and she served 22 months.
Patty Hearst was granted a full pardon by President Bill Clinton on January 20, 2001. After her release from prison, Patty married her former bodyguard, Bernard Shaw. They have two children, Gillian and Lydia Hearst-Shaw, and reside in Garrison, New York.
7. Mission Accomplished
The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by the United States under the administration of President George W. Bush and the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Tony Blair. To date, the Iraq War has lasted eight and a half years. Two months after the war started, on May 1, 2003 George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and gave a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq. Visible in the background was a banner stating “Mission Accomplished.” Following the speech, the image became internationally recognized. George W Bush was criticized for suggesting the war was over, when in fact it was just beginning.
The controversy surrounding the speech and the banner made video clips and pictures of the speech famous. As criticism mounted, the White House released a statement saying that they didn’t mean to imply the Iraq War was over. Pentagon spokesman Conrad Chun said the banner referred specifically to the aircraft carrier’s 10-month deployment and not the war itself. The banner and picture have come to symbolize the irony of the President giving a victory speech only a few weeks after the beginning of a relatively long war. In November 2008, Bush indicated that he regretted the use of the banner, stating in a CNN interview, “To some, it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn’t think that. It conveyed the wrong message.”
Coincidentally, on May 1, 2011, exactly eight years after the speech, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. Navy SEALs had killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The French newspaper Le Monde favorably compared Obama’s speech to that of Bush.
6. Flight of Refugees Across Wrecked Bridge in Korea
Towards the end of 1950, China entered the Korean War. They sided with North Korea and the reinforcements not only broke the United Nations advance, but sent U.S. forces in retreat. As the UN left the area, so did Korean civilians. A major obstacle in the way of escape was a destroyed bridge over the Taedong River near Pyongyang, North Korea. Despite intense danger, thousands of people attempted to cross the bridge at once. AP photographer Max Desfor was working the war and captured the refugees as they struggled to move across the ruined bridge. The picture was taken on December 4, 1950 and won the Pulitzer Prize in photography for Max Desfor. Desfor had trouble using his camera due to the cold temperatures. During an interview after the war, Max commented on the “deathly silence” of the scene.
During the Korean War, the Battle of Inchon turned the tide against the Korean People’s Army (NKPA) and the United Nations command. The soldiers were forced to retreat down the Chinese border, but were defeated in the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River. The 120 mile (190 km) retreat was the longest in U.S. military history.
5. Wait for Me, Daddy
On Saturday August 26, 1939 Hitler threatened Poland and demanded control of the city of Danzig. The same day, the Regimental Adjutant in British Columbia, Canada received a call from the Canadian capital instructing him to call out the BC Regiment. On September 10, 1939 the Parliament of Canada declared war against the German Reich. On October 1, 1940 the British Columbia Regiment was ordered to Nanaimo and then overseas. The soldiers made a famous march down Eighth Street in New Westminster.
At the intersection of Eighth and Columbia Avenue, Claude P. Dettloff captured a photograph of Private Jack Bernard’s 5-year-old son Warren (Whitey) running from his mother to join his father in line. The picture received extensive exposure during the Second World War and was used in war-bond drives. It documents the struggle that many children feel as their parents travel to war. The photo gained exposure in Life magazine and was hung in every school in British Columbia during the war. When Jack Bernard returned home, Claude Dettloff was on hand to photograph the family’s reunion. Jack and Bernice Bernard would eventually divorce.
Whitey Bernard doesn’t remember getting his picture taken, but does remember the next day when the image was published in the Province Newspaper. He soon became the most famous kid in Canada. Whitey was even enlisted to sell war bonds.
4. Portrait of Subcomandante Marcos
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is an armed revolutionary group based in one of the poorest states of Mexico, Chiapas. Since 1994, the group has been in a declared war “against the Mexican state.” The war has been primarily nonviolent and defensive against military, paramilitary, and corporate incursions into Chiapas. The group’s main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos. In January 1994, Marcos led an army of Mayan farmers into the eastern parts of Chiapas protesting against the Mexican government’s treatment of indigenous peoples. Marcos is an author, political poet, adroit humorist, and outspoken opponent of capitalism. He has advocated for having the Mexican constitution amended to recognize the rights of the country’s indigenous inhabitants.
Subcomandante Marcos is famous for using a pipe and always covering his face with a black balaclava. Many people have called him the leader of a new wave of revolutionaries. In the middle of the 1990s, Subcomandante Marcos shot to prominence around the world. He became viewed as a celebrity in many areas of Mexico. A famous portrait of Marcos was spread around the world. The picture shows the Mexican leader with a black mask and smoking pipe. The image has fueled the revolutionary spirit in many areas of Mexico, much the same way that the portrait of Che Guevara became the symbol for revolution in the 1960s. Between 1992 and 2006, Marcos wrote more than 200 essays and stories. He published 21 books.
Subcomandante Marcos denies it, but the Mexican government believes he is Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente who was born June 19, 1957 in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
3. Winston Churchill and the Tommy Gun
On June 4, 1940, Winston Churchill made a historic speech. “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!” His words were an inspiration to British troops and in the summer of 1940, Churchill scheduled a collection of public tours across the UK. During one of these tours on July 31, 1940, he was photographed trying out an American 1928 Tommy gun or Thompson SMG.
The picture was taken at the defense fortifications near Hartlepool in Northern England used by the British media in 1940. It quickly spread across the world and became an important picture of the Second World War. Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels extensively used the photograph. During the Battle of Britain, the Germans dropped leaflets with the picture and the English text “WANTED, for incitement to MURDER.” The Nazi propaganda was attempting to portray Churchill as a gangster.
It is not the same gun as in the picture, but the World War II London Underground Headquarters, now a museum, has a similar Tommy gun on display that Churchill planned to use if the Nazis came to London. If they had successfully invaded he is quoted as planning “to light a good cigar, take a sip or two of his favorite brandy, and go out in the streets and take as many German troops with it as he could, perhaps fighting alongside the Queen and the royal family when the end came.”
2. Alexey Yeremenko
Soviet war reporter and photographer Max Alpert captured one of the most famous pictures of World War II. The photograph shows junior political officer Alexey Yeremenko leading an attack against German troops. It was taken by Alpert on July 12, 1942 during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The image was initially titled Kom-bat, which is a Soviet military acronym for “commander of battalion.” The exact location of the battle is difficult to determine, but all accounts say that Alexey Yeremenko was killed right after the photograph was taken. The picture gives an excellent profile of the Soviet soldier and his weapon. During World War II, the image became a symbol of the Great Patriotic War and the Soviet fight against the Axis Powers of the Eastern Front. It represents courage on the battlefield and is a lasting symbol of the Soviet victory.
The identity of Alexey Yeremenko was not uncovered until May of 1965, 23 years after the picture was taken. He was identified after his wife and children saw the famous image on the front page of the Pravda 20-year jubilee issue. The article was dedicated to the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
1. American Soldier at D-Day
The Invasion of Normandy began on June 6, 1944 (D-Day). It was the largest amphibious operation in history. Allied soldiers faced intense fire as they attempted to reach the shoreline and gain cover. Robert Capa is a famous Hungarian combat photographer. To escape Nazi control, Capa moved to New York during the Second World War and became a photographer for the Allies. He accompanied American troops during the Invasion of Normandy and was able to capture 106 action photographs. Capa sent his film to Life magazine in order to have it developed. After an error occurred, Life magazine destroyed the film and only 11 pictures were salvageable.
Robert Capa’s most famous photograph shows an American soldier moving through the water and attempting to reach the shoreline of Normandy. At the time of the picture, the men were under intense gunfire. The image has been praised for showing the true nature of the Normandy landings. Robert Capa remembers, “The water was cold, and the beach more than a hundred yards away. The bullets tore holes in the water around me, and I made for the nearest steel obstacle. A soldier got there at the same time, and for a few minutes we shared its cover. He took the waterproofing off his rifle and began to shoot without much aiming at the smoke-hidden beach. The sound of his rifle gave him enough courage to move forward. I felt a new kind of fear shaking my body from toe to hair, and twisting my face.”
Of all the photographers sent to Normandy with the Allied invasion, only Robert Capa was able to capture pictures showing an active resistance. Other photographers were either foiled by bad weather or landed on beaches that faced little German opposition. This fact makes the loss of Robert Capa’s film tragic. The U.S. soldier in the photograph was identified as Edward Regan. Regan remembers that “there was so much chaos and mass confusion that one was reduced to a state of almost complete immobilization.”
On May 25, 1954 Robert Capa was traveling with a French regiment in Vietnam when he left his jeep to take some photographs. While walking up the road he stepped on a land-mine and lost his leg. Capa was quickly rushed to a field hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival due to massive trauma and loss of blood. He died with his camera in hand.