Monday, May 16, 2011

Iconic Photograph

The latest photograph to be dubbed "iconic" is here.

It will go down in history as the image that represents the death of Usama Bin Laden. While it is certainly historical, should it be titled "iconic?"

My trouble with the image is that it needs a good caption. Iconic images shouldn't need words or any historical context. If you didn't know the players in the room, what would the image tell you? Certainly there is tension in the air, and Sec. Clinton's hand over her mouth (later she claimed it was a cough due to allergies) adds to the dramatic impact of the image, but can any viewer see beyond that to make it iconic. If we replaced these people with sports fans watching a close championship game, would it be viewed any differently?

To me iconic is often, but not always, anonymous. The horror of the Vietnam war was captured in an image by Eddie Adams. Most people see the image and you don't need to know who the two main subjects are. It strikes a huge impact because of the human condition that was recorded.

How about this photo of Ali standing over Liston by Neil Leifer. Granted Ali is one of the best known fighters of all time, but this image is much more than just a portrait. It was a portrait of one boxer triumphing over another.

Finally, we have an image of the Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry. Most people don't know the circumstances of the photograph or the name of the model. Still, somehow the image speaks to us in the way that words do not. This is an iconic photograph.