What is the exact measure of what makes us human? What is the primary feeling that separates us from irrational beings? It is our unique ability of solidarity and indignation in the face of misery and pain of others? The pictures below were taken from research through compilation of reports and lists published by newspapers, magazines, websites specializing in photography, photojournalism and history.
The research aimed to identify what were the saddest photos of all time. Participated in the survey the publications: Life, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Telegraph, El Universal, The Pulitzer Prizes, Day Life, World’s Famous Photos, Digital History, Listverse, Newspapers Option, Al Fotto, National Geographic and World Press Photo. Obviously lists are always incomplete. It is known that, like the perception, the subjective – that was the basis of the research – is an individual thing.
However, the pictures selected, if not unanimity among journalists and photographers (and possibly will not be among the readers) are undeniable references to some of the cruelest moments of history. Here are in classification order, the 20 saddest pictures selected based on these publications.
Omayra Sanchez (1985)
The photograph shows Omayra Sanchez, a 13-year-old girl who was trapped in construction waste after a landslide caused by the eruption of the volcano Nevado del Ruiz, which devastated the village of Armero, Colombia, in 1985. Rescuers were unable to rescue her. She died about 60 hours after being trapped. The photo won the World Press Photo 1985. Photographer: Frank Fournier.
The Nigerian-Biafran War (1969)
Biafra, officially the Republic of Biafra, was a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria that existed from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970, taking its name from the Bight of Biafra (the Atlantic bay to its south). The Nigerian Civil War or the Nigerian-Biafran War killed more than a million people between 1967 and 1970, mainly from starvation. Thousands of children were affected of Kwashiorkor, pathology resulting from insufficient protein intake. The war photographer Don McCullin was the first to draw attention to the tragedy. Photographer: Don McCullin.
Phan Thi Kim Phúc (1972)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and the most famous war photograph of all time. Kim Phuc (the girl naked, also known as the girl in the picture) runs along a road near Trang Bang, South Vietnam, after an aerial napalm attack. To survive, Kim ripped her clothes in flames of her body. Photographer: Nick Ut.
Execution of a Viet Cong Guerrilla (1968)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the picture shows Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the South Vietnamese police, firing his pistol into the head of Nguyen Van Lem, official Vietcong in Saigon. Although shocking, the picture does not tell the whole story. The murdered man had killed a family. Photographer: Eddie Adamst.
The Famine in Sudan (1993)
Photo published in March 1993 in the “New York Times” and responsible for the rise of Kevin Carter as a photographer. In 1994, Kevin won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography. Although the picture is impressive, the vulture was not as close of the boy as the picture suggests – a fact that continues to cause controversy among journalists and photographers. The boy in the photo was called Nyong Kong and survived the vulture, died in 2007. Kevin Carter, the photographer, was killed in 1994. Photographer: Kevin Carter.
The photograph shows the first atomic bombing in history. On August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima was devastated by atomic fission bomb called Little Boy, launched by the United States, resulting in 258,000 deaths and injuries. Photographer: George William Marquardt (the airplane pilot).
Racism in the United States (1950)
The photograph, which caused outrage around the world, shows separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks in North Carolina, United States. Until the 1950s, the african-Americans were not entitled to vote, were segregated socially and comprised the poorest segment of the U.S. population. Photographer: Elliott Erwitt.
The Power of One (2006)
In 2006, Israeli authorities ordered the evacuation of illegal outposts, such as Amona. Oded Balilty, an Israeli photographer for the Associated Press, was present when the evacuation degenerated into violent and unprecedented clashes between settlers and police officers. The picture shows a brave woman rebelling against authorities. Ynet Nili is the 16-year-old Jewish settler from the above picture. According to Ynet, “a picture like this one is a mark of disgrace for the state of Israel and is nothing to be proud of. The picture looks like it represents a work of art, but that isn’t what went on there. What happened in Amona was totally different.” Nili claims the police beat her up very harshly. “You see me in the photograph, one against many, but that is only an illusion – behind the many stands one man – (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert, but behind me stand the Lord and the people of Israel.” Photographer: Oded Balilty.
Photography done by Mike Wells, in April 1980, shows a child in the province of Karamoja, Uganda, holding hands with a missionary. The contrast between the two hands serves as a reminder of the chasm that separates developed and underdeveloped countries. The photograph remained unpublished for years. Photographer: Mike Wells.
The Falling Man (2001)
Photograph taken by Richard Drew, Associated Press photographer, showing a man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Five years after the attacks, the man was identified as Jonathan Briley, a 43-year-old employee of a restaurant installed in in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. However, officially, his identity has never been confirmed. Photographer: Richard Drew.
Migrant Mother (1936)
An icon of the Great Depression and one of the most famous photos of the United States. Florence Owens Thompson, 32, devastated by not having enough food to feed her children. American journalists have spent decades trying to locate the mother and her seven children. In late 1970 she was found not prospered greatly. She lived in a trailer. Photographer: Dorothea Lange.
The Afghan Girl (1985)
Sharbat Gula is an Afghan woman who was the subject of a famous photograph by journalist Steve McCurry. Gula was living as a refugee in Pakistan during the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when she was photographed. The image brought her recognition when it was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine at a time when she was approximately 12 years old. The identity of the Afghan Girl remained unknown for over 17 years. McCurry made several attempts during the 1990s to locate her, but was only in January 2002, that he finally found her. Photographer: Steve McCurry.
Kosovo Refugees (2000)
Carol Guzy, the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography, received her most recent Pulitzer in 2000 for her touching photographs of Kosovo refugees. The above picture portrays Agim Shala, a two-year-old boy, who is passed through a fence made with barbed wire to his family. Thousands of Kosovo refugees were reunited and camped in Kukes, Albania. Photographer: Carol Guzy.
War Underfoot (2004)
Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole took this terrifying photo during her assignment in Liberia. It shows the devastating effects of the Liberian Civil War. Bullet casings cover entirely a street in Monrovia. The Liberian capital was the worst affected region, because it was the scene of heavy fighting between government soldiers and rebel forces. Carolyn won pulitzer prize in 2004 with the set of pictures containing this one. Photographer: Carolyn Cole.
Thailand Massacre (1976)
Neal Ulevich won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for a series of photographs of disorder and brutality in the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. The Thammasat University Massacre took place on October 6, 1976. It was a very violent attack on students who were demonstrating against Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn. Field Marshal T. Kittikachorn was a dictator who was planning to come back to Thailand. The return of the military dictator from exile provoked very violent protests. Protestors and students were beaten, mutilated, shot, hung and burnt to death. Photographer: Neal Ulevich.
After the Storm (2008)
Miami Herald photographer Patrick Farrell captured the harrowing images of the victims of Haiti in 2008. Farrell documented the Haitian tragedy with impressive black-and-white stills. The subject of “After the Storm” is a boy who is trying to save a stroller after the tropical storm Hanna struck Haiti. Photographer: Patrick Farrell.
After the Tsunami (2004)
One of the most representative and striking photos of the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami was taken by Reuters photographer Arko Datta in Tamil Nadu. He won the World Press Photo competition of 2004. Kathy Ryan, jury member and picture editor of The New York Times Magazine, characterized Datta’s image as a “graphic, historical and starkly emotional picture.” After the Tsunami” illustrates an Indian woman lying on the sand with her arms outstretched, mourning a dead family member. Her relative was killed by one of the deadliest natural disasters that we have ever seen: the Indian Ocean tsunami. Photographer: Arko Datta.
Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984)
Pablo Bartholomew is an acclaimed Indian photojournalist who captured the Bhopal Gas Tragedy into his lens. Almost 30 years have passed since India’s worst industrial catastrophe injured 558,125 people and killed as many as 15,000. Because safety standards and maintenance procedures had been ignored at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, a leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals triggered a massive environmental and human disaster. Photographer Pablo Bartholomew rushed to document the catastrophe. He came across a man who was burying a child. Photographer: Pablo Bartholomew.
Operation Lion Heart (2005)
Pulitzer Prize award winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice won the highly respected award in 2005 for the photographic essay “Operation Lion Heart”. Operation Lion Heart is the story of a 9-year-old Iraqi boy who was severely injured by an explosion during one of the most violent conflicts of modern history – the Iraq War. The boy was brought to a hospital in Oakland, CA where he had to undergo dozens of life-and-death surgeries. His courage and unwillingness to die gave him the nickname: Saleh Khalaf, “Lion Heart”. Photographer: Deanne Fitzmaurice.
The Syria Gas (2013)
This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens trying to identify dead bodies, after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, on August 21, 2013. Syrian anti-government activists accused the regime of carrying out a toxic gas attack that killed at least 100 people, including many children as they slept, during intense artillery and rocket barrages on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, part of a fierce government offensive in the area. Photographer: AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen.