Photo Series Documents Photographs That Look Ordinary Until You Know The Backstory


  1. 11 Atomic Bomb Detonation

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    Harold Edgerton - an MIT physicist and a photographer - is best known for his invention of strobe light photography, allowing us to freeze fast actions in time, as in the famous picture of a bullet piercing an apple. In the beginning of 1947, Harold's research firm was commissioned to photograph atomic bomb tests in Nevada and the Pacific. This particular photograph was taken on June 5, 1952, as part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper test series at the Nevada Proving Grounds with a shutter speed of one hundred millionth of a second.

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  2. 12 SS Grandcamp

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    Looks like an ordinary ship at an ordinary dock on an ordinary day. However, the moment captured is April 16, 1947 and the ship is called SS Grandcamp. A fire has broke out and the men on the dock are members of the Texas City Volunteer Fire Department, attempting to extinguish it. A few minutes after this photo was taken, it’s going to detonate in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in human history. 468 people had died, more than 5,000 were injured.

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  3. 13 Cher Ami

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    This pigeon delivered a message from a trapped battalion of soldiers in WW1 saving nearly 200 men. She was shot multiple times and ended up losing a leg and an eye. The soldiers gave the pigeon a wooden leg and gave her the name “Cher Ami” (although the pigeon was female, the French 'Ami' is of a masculine form) meaning “Dear friend”.

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  4. 14 Childhood Friends

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    Taken by Jacques Gourmelen, the photograph became one of the iconic pictures from the people of Brittany, France. On April 6, 1972 in Saint-Brieuc, workers from the company Joint Français went on strike and CRS (French riot police) intervened. In the photo, face-to-face stand two men - Guy Burmieux, a worker and Jean-Yvon Antignac, a riot policeman. As it turned out, the two had been childhood friends and recognized each other. The photographer later recalled: "I saw him [Guy Burmieux] go toward his friend and grab him by the collar. He wept with rage and told him, ‘Go ahead and hit me while you’re at it!’ The other one didn’t move a muscle."

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  5. 15 Two Brothers

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    This seemingly fun and lively photo of two brothers - Michael and Sean McQuilken - was taken at Moro Rock in California’s Sequoia National Park on August 20, 1975. The photograph was captured by their sister Mary just seconds before they were struck by lightning. One of the brothers later recalled: “At the time, we thought this was humorous. I took a photo of Mary and Mary took a photo of Sean and me. I raised my right hand into the air and the ring I had on began to buzz so loudly that everyone could hear it. I found myself on the ground with the others. Sean was collapsed and huddled on his knees. Smoke was pouring from his back.” At the time, all the three survived, but Sean, the younger brother, sadly took his own life in 1989.

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  6. 16 Moving An Apartment Building To Create A Boulevard In Alba Iulia, Romania

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    In the early spring of 1987, in Alba Iulia, Romania, an instruction from the government was given to rework the infrastructure and make way for the boulevard - however, one apartment building stood in the way of the plan. Therefore, it was decided to split the building into two and move the parts 180 feet (55 meters) away. The building housed over eighty families and weighed over 7600 tons. The process took almost six hours to complete and the two separate parts of the building were moved apart on a 33 degree inclined angle. Stories went around that people remained in the building all throughout the moving process and one woman even put a glass of water on the edge of her balcony, which didn't spill a drop. Also, all the utilities (water, electricity, gas, etc.) remained intact, too.

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  7. 17 Motel Manager Pouring Acid In The Water

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    The famous photograph, perfectly conveying the shaky times of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, was taken by Horace Cort. The image shows a group of white and black young people, swimming in the pool of a Monson Motor Lodge motel on June 18, 1964 while the manager of the motel is pouring bleach on them. Seven days prior to the incident, Martin Luther King Jr was arrested for trespassing at the same Monson Motor Lodge after being asked to leave from its segregated restaurant. A group of protesters decided to fight back peacefully and decided to plan a swim-in in the pool designated for "whites only" as a form of protest. Whites, who paid for their rooms in the motel, invited black people to join them in the motel pool as their guests. Then, the motel manager, Jimmy Brock, in an effort to break up the party, poured a bottle of muriatic acid into the pool in order to scare the swimmers so that they would leave.

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  8. 18 Children For Sale

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    They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this one is probably worth even more. Life during war was extremely difficult - food and supplies were rationed, jobs were scarce. For some folks, the struggling continued even after the war. In this tragic photo, taken in 1948, four children are seen on their front stoop while their mother hides her face from the photographer in embarrassment. Lucille Chalifoux, was only 24 years old, but pregnant with her fifth child at the time. Her husband has just lost a job and the family were facing eviction from their apartment. To evade possible homelessness, the parents chose to auction off their children. All of the children were eventually bought off. Some, as rumors have spread, were forced into slavery.

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  9. 19 'An Armenian Man Dances For His Lost Son In The Mountains Near Aparan, Armenia'

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    Antoine Agoudjian is a legendary French photographer of Armenian descent. As no one could describe the work of art better than the artist himself, here's Antoine's story on capturing this striking image: “In 1998, I found myself in Aparan, a large town an hour’s drive from Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. A local dance troupe was performing that evening, in the open air, with most of the suburb in attendance. As soon as I took my first shot, an old man approached me. Tears streamed down his face. He told me that his son had died. That he had been electrocuted, that he was his pride and joy, and that I looked just like him. He broke into sobs and moved towards me with outstretched arms. His name was Ishran. I asked if he would dance for me, and he began dancing. The troupe paused and perched on an outcrop of rocks in the background. It was beautiful, not because the man is beautiful, but because he represents something deep inside the collective consciousness of the Armenian community: a celebratory resilience in the face of overwhelming loss.”

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  10. 20 'flight Of Refugees Across Wrecked Bridge In Korea'

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    Taken on December 4, 1950 by an Associate Press photographer Max Desfor, the photograph shows desperate refugees crammed on a destroyed Pyongyang bridge, over the Taedong River in North Korea as they were rushing to flee their war-torn country. The Chinese communist troops were approaching rapidly, so the residents, in fear of their lives, decided to escape to the Southern part of the country. The photograph won Pulitzer Prize for Max Desfor, back in 1951.

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