A picture is worth a thousand words—especially when you tell the stories behind them. Need examples? Just look at these famous images and the result of what happened to people involved. Taking these photos or even just being in them ruined the lives of people in ways you’d never expect.
1968 Olympics—Black Power Photo
It is surely one of the most famous photos not only in sports, but in human rights activism. The photo shows two black American men, Tommie Smith, who finished in first in the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympics, and behind him, John Carlos. Both men raised their fists defiantly in what was, according to Smith, a “human rights salute.”
However, this salute looked a lot like a Black Power gesture, which most people weren’t too happy about. Smith and Carlos were stripped of their medals and disqualified, and then banned from the Olympics. However, when they went home, they received a warm reception from their friends and family and were seen as heroes in the black community. In history, they are clearly remembered for their brave action and received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2008 ESPYs.
However in the photo, there is a third man—the greatest Australian sprinter of all time. His name is Peter Norman, and this story did not end up well for him. Norman, who won second place, borrowed a jacket from an American rower to wear; on the jacket was a small pin that read “Olympic Project for Human Rights.” Smith and Carlos reportedly told Norman what they were planning to do and he said, “I’ll stand with you.”
Nobody else knew that though. Despite the fact that the jacket and pin were not his, according to CNN, “The badge was enough to effectively end Norman’s career. He returned home to Australia a pariah, suffering unofficial sanction and ridicule as the Black Power salute’s forgotten man. He never ran in the Olympics again.”
The rejection didn’t end once the majority of the world came to its senses regarding ignorant racism. In 2000, Australia hosted the Olympics but Norman wasn’t invited to attend any event along with his fellow Olympians—at least not until Team USA asked him to be a part of their delegation.
The Olympic Committee insisted they hadn’t blackmailed Norman, but nonetheless, the damage had been done. In Australia and the rest of the world, Norman became a forgotten man, who was once the second fastest person in the world.
The Man Who Filmed Rodney King’s Beating
On March 3, 1991, George Holliday was having a very normal day. He had gone to work, finished his job, and came home. Then he heard sirens right outside his home and some commotion, so he grabbed his video camera (which took a little more effort back then compared to what is in our pocket now) and began filming. He had no idea that was he was recording would go on to be one of the most infamous home videos ever recorded.
Holliday captured police officers on camera beating Los Angeles taxi driver Rodney King.
The officers were charged for their brutality, but they were all acquitted and let go.
Thus came the riots.
Over 53 people were killed, over 3,000 were injured, and Los Angeles experienced millions of dollars in damage. And for some reason, people began to blame Holliday.
The media released his name and shortly after, he was receiving death threats. People blamed him for filming and not helping, and for any other number of reasons. The media had their way with him.
By the time the situation finally calmed down, Holliday had been fired from his job, divorced, then divorced again; now he works as by-referral-only rooter because he doesn’t want to publicize his name. Still, Holliday told the New York Daily News, “Knowing all that, ‘I still would have gone out there and taped it … It definitely needed to be used for the right reasons.”
The Most Famous War Photo—Ever
We’ve all seen this photo of American soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. The photo, taken by Joe Rosenthal, is beloved by countless Americans, and it won the Pulitzer Prize and inspired two feature films directed by Clint Eastwood. But in truth, there is a dark story of what happened after the photo was taken.
Of the six men in the photo, three—Michael Strank, Harlon Block, and Franklin Sousey—wound up getting killed in battle within a month or two. The U.S. military feared it could be a PR nightmare if none of them survived, so they pulled the other three—Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and Harold Schultz—out of the war and sent them home. The thing is, one of the men didn’t want to leave his unit behind. It was very much a Saving Private Ryan moment, but the military forced Ira Hayes to go home.
He was a Native American Indian and this family of Marines were practically all he had. He never got over the guilt of leaving and hearing about their deaths. He died 10 years later due to a drinking problem.
A wave of suspicion also followed the photo; one man is believed to be misidentified but never admitted to it. In addition, many people think the photo was staged. In truth (or so it’s believed), it staged, but it was an opportune photographic moment, seeing as it was the second time Marines were raising the flag. The first flag was too small.
You may not know Walter Palmer’s name by itself, but you’ll know it if you saw the picture of him smiling with any of his big game trophies. He is the man who paid money to hunt a lion. Unfortunately for Palmer, he didn’t kill just any lion (even though killing any lion is cruel); he killed the famous “Cecil the Lion.”
Palmer was your average dentist in Minnesota who took a hunting trip to Africa and paid a reported $50,000 to hunt big game. And that is exactly what he did. He shot a lion with a bow and arrow and “took it” as a trophy.
The thing is, Cecil was being tracked by Oxnard University for an on-going study, so when park investigators found Cecil’s remains and noticed the missing tracker, they started looking into it. They found that the lion was hunted by a couple Zimbabwean guides who led Palmer to Cecil.
While Palmer had no idea what he was doing was illegal, the guides knew the location they were hunting on was a no-go. They ended up getting charged, but Palmer was free.
However, the aftermath was pretty brutal. People protested outside his dental practice and he was receiving death threats. The government got involved because of all the backlash against hunting tourism in Africa.
Airlines decided they would no longer ship animals from trophy hunting exhibitions, and even Jimmy Kimmel made a plea to help raise money for Oxnard animal research to prevent things like this from happening again.
Kevin Carter’s Photo of the Child and Vulture
Sometimes you get people who take random photos or videos that go viral, and sometimes you have people who dedicate their life to the professionalism of documenting events around the world. Sometimes those two go hand-in-hand. Enter Kevin Carter, a South African photojournalist who had a career through the 1980s and ’90s but who would come to be haunted by his life’s work.
One of the most famous photos Carter took was of an emaciated child in Sudan who collapsed to the ground as she made her way to a food bank. A vulture landed nearby and was stalking the girl, its dying prey.
Carter saw the events unfolding, and got his camera in position, selected his lens, took the lighting measurements, and, after about 20 minutes, snapped the photo that would go on to win him the Pulitzer Prize. He was told not to touch any children for fear of transmitting diseases to or from them. However, after he took the photo, Carter chased away the vulture.
The photo was published in The New York Times and was met with a wide variety of reactions; the Times shared an editorial note letting the public know that she “resume[d] her trek after the vulture was chased away.”
Some people thought he was shedding light on events around the world—after all, Carter was from South Africa and grew up knowing these things were happening. However, others thought he was a predator, with one newspaper saying, “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”
While the image made him a household name, it had many repercussions and carried a stone of guilt with him. Ultimately, the years of framing images like that one got the best of him, and Carter took his own life less than a year after winning the Pulitzer.