Photography is an immensely powerful medium. I imagine that all of us, at some point or another, have been totally stunned by a picture, an image that sets itself apart from any others we are used to seeing. In our media saturated world we are constantly bombarded with images rich in “shock value”, so much so that we are able to see and forget some truly horrifying scenes. But despite this, every once in a while you may see an image that becomes embossed into your memory, an image that your mind won’t let you so easily erase.

I’m not sure how my sharing the images that moved me will be received. I am not doing this in order to be gruesome or sensational. I’m not trying to shock either. I’m simply showing you just a few of the images that have stayed with me since the moment I saw them. They’re hard images to see, sobering while at the same time quite amazing because of what they communicate. These are, of course, just a tiny selection of the pictures that have been taken that go way way beyond words.

Friendly fire
As an evacuation helicopter rescues a group of American soldiers after their vehicle had been hit by friendly fire deep in the Iraqi desert near Baghdad on the last day of the Gulf war in 1991, US Sergeant Ken Kozakiewicz learns that the body bag next to him contains the body of his friend. What struck me about the photograph was the isolated nature of the soldiers.

Photographer David Turnley said of his photograph; “While I was out in the field, I got wind that much of the TV coverage was portraying a kind of sanitised war, one in which big technology was being used but that no human life, and particularly not American life, was at risk.”

He went on to say. “As we approached the town of Nasiriya on the Euphrates River, we could see that a Bradley fighting vehicle had been severed in two by a missile. Two injured soldiers were loaded into the helicopter – those are the two you see in the photograph. They didn’t seem to know what had happened – they were very disorientated. The body of the driver was put into a body bag. One medic handed over the dog tags belonging to the dead soldier to another medic and, at this point, Sergeant Ken Kozakiewicz realised that his best friend had been killed by ‘friendly fire’.”

After the previous day of bloodshed on China’s Tiananmen Square in which student were demonstrating for democratic reform, a lone man stands in the path of a line People’s Liberation Army tanks that were part of an army that just moments before had once again opened fire on crowds of demonstrators killing and injuring many of them.

Photographer Charlie Cole describes the event. “We saw a young man, with a jacket in one hand and a shopping bag in the other, step into the path of the tanks in an attempt to halt them. It was an incredible thing to do, especially in light of what had just happened with the APC machine-gunners. I couldn’t really believe it, I kept shooting in anticipation of what I felt was his certain doom. To my amazement, the lead tank stopped, then tried to move around him but the young man cut it off again. Finally the PSB [secret police] grabbed him and ran away with him.”

“Numerous inquiries have been made by various agencies and magazines trying to uncover the young man’s identity and find out what happened to him. I’ve seen a number of accounts that name him as Wang Wei Lin, but that isn’t a certainty. Personally I think the government most likely executed him. It would have been in the government’s interest to produce him to silence the outcry from most of the world. But, they never could. People were executed at that time for far less than what he did.”

Starving boy and a missionary
April 1980. A starving boy places his emaciated hand into that of a missionary in the Karamoja district of Uganda. The picture won photographer Michael Wells the World Press Photo of the Year award in 1980. However, Wells felt indignant that the same publication that sat on his picture for five months without publishing it, while people were dying, entered it into a competition. He was embarrassed to win as he never entered the competition himself, and was against winning prizes with pictures of people starving to death.

Vulture awaits
This picture is tragic in every sense. A starving child collapses as it crawls toward a feeding station in the famine struck country of Sudan in 1993. In the background a vulture waits for the child to die. The horrific and haunting picture was published around the world and became an icon of Africa’s anguish.

The South African photographer, Kevin Carter, who already well known in South Africa for his fearless coverage of deadly township violence, had headed north of the border with Silva to photograph the rebel movement in famine-stricken Sudan. Seeking relief from the sight of masses of people starving to death, he wandered into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding centre. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It didn’t, and he eventually chased the bird away. The girl gathered her strength and resumed her journey toward a feeding centre. Afterward he sat by a tree, talked to God, cried, and thought about his own daughter, Megan.

Carter was already a deeply troubled man who struggled to cope with the horrors he saw on an almost daily basis in his chosen profession. TIME magazine’s Johannesburg bureau chief, Scott MacLeod, said of Carter. “Few journalists saw as much violence and trauma as he did. But to go into that kind of danger over and over again requires a strong sense of mission or idealism.”

The photograph is undoubtedly hard to look at. The New York Times explained in a rare editors’ note regarding the picture, that while the girl did indeed resume her trek, the photographer didn’t know if she had survived.

In May of 1994 the photograph earned him the Pulitzer prize, but unable to escape the trauma of what he had witnessed and beset by difficulties, Kevin Carter committed suicide just two months later. He was 33. His suicide note spoke of the ghosts he could not escape, the “vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain,” and the “starving and wounded children” ever before his eyes.

The world press 50 years gallery
More about the ‘tank man’ picture