Getty Images’ Stuart Hannagan chooses five images that shook the world

When newspapers published images of two-year-old Aylan Kurdi, drowned, lying facedown, the world was stirred and finally realised—or perhaps remembered—the horror of the Syrian conflict. But this isn’t the first time images have significantly changed public discourse. As the following five images collated by Getty Images’ Stuart Hannagan show, images have time and time again laid bare the uglier side of life. 

Famine in Sudan

Credit: Tom Stoddart Archive / Getty Images 
Caption: AJIEP, SUDAN-JULY 1998: A well-nourished Sudanese man steals maize from a starving child during a food distribution at Medecins Sans Frontieres feeding centre at Ajiep, southern Sudan, in 1998.

In the history of photography there have been many times when images have helped to change the world by shocking people into taking direct action. An example is Tom Stoddart’s harrowing image of a starving child, photographed during the Sudanese famine of 1998.

This image was published in The Guardian and at Stoddart’s request, the text included a phone number by which people could donate to Médecins Sans Frontières. As a direct result of people seeing these images, more than £100,000 was given to the charity.

Gorillas’ new threat of extinction

Credit: Brent Stirton Images / Contributor
Caption: Ukima, Virunga National Park, Eastern Congo – JULY 24: Conservation Rangers from an Anti-Poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the bodies of four Mountain Gorillas killed in mysterious circumstances in the park, July 24, 2007, Virunga National Park, Eastern Congo.

Award-winning Getty Images Reportage photographer Brent Stirton often focuses on conservation issues, and his images of a slain silverback gorilla in the Democratic Republic of Congo are a particularly strong example of his work, which has helped raise over $50 million for gorilla conservation.

Princess Diana Visits AIDS/HIV Hostel in Brazil

Credit: Tim Graham / Contributor
Caption: Sao Paulo, Brazil – April 24: The Princess Of Wales Visiting A Hostel For Abandoned Children In Sao Paulo, Brazil Many Of Them Hiv Positive Or Suffering From Aids

Sometimes photographs do more than document history; they make it. The most famous woman in the world hugging an HIV-positive baby did more to de-stigmatise the disease than anything before.

Macabre meat market in Niger


Credit: Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images Reportage
Caption: Entrails of dead animals are seen hanged as meet traders buy the animals dead bodies to cook them on the spot and send them to Nigeria on June 27, 2010 in the village of Gadabedji in Niger.

Getty Images Reportage photographer Marco Di Lauro partnered with UNICEF UK to document the serious food crisis gripping the West African nation of Niger. His surreal, striking photograph captured the attention of the public by offering something new, a different side to a widely reported issue. The impact of the work helped raise several million dollars in a few months to help the Nigerian people.

Ebola victims being carried away 

Credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images Reportage 
Caption: September 5, 2014 photo by Getty Images photojournalist Daniel Berehulak, part of a winning series, shows James Dorbor, eight, suspected of being infected with Ebola, being carried by medical staff to an Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia, Liberia.

Getty Images photojournalist Daniel Berehulak was awarded a Pulitzer Prize this year for his ground-breaking body of work covering the Ebola epidemic for The New York Times. Captured over a period of 14 weeks Daniel spent time in rural and urban areas of West Africa and his imagery documents the difficult, heart-breaking work carried out by aid workers and the local communities. 

  • Stuart Hannagan is Getty Images’ vice president of editorial in the APAC region
  • See other impactful images in the Getty Images legacy collection.

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