19 Photographs That Sparked Public Outrage

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Image: via WBUR / Library of Congress

Through its ability to provoke anger and even outrage at social injustice and human atrocities, photography can be a powerful force. Ever since its invention in the 19th century, the medium has contributed to the instigation of great global movements and massive societal change. Take a look at this selection of 19 images which, in their own way, had an impact on the world – sometimes profound, sometimes less so.

Image: Benjamin F. Powelson
Image: Benjamin F. Powelson

19. Olive Oatman’s tribal tattoo

As they traveled across Arizona in 1851, 14-year-old Olive Oatman and her family were attacked by Native Americans thought to have been members of a Tolkepaya tribe. Her parents and four of her siblings were killed outright. One brother escaped while she and her younger sister were taken into captivity. The sister unfortunately died, but Olive was sold on to some Mohave people as a slave. Thankfully, the young woman was freed in 1856 – but not without the experience leaving its mark. It is fair to say that her Mohave tattoos thoroughly shocked white American society.

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Image: Toronto History
Image: Toronto History

18. Naked ambition on the streets of Toronto

This obviously staged shot was taken by a photographer from the Alexandra Studio in Toronto, Canada, in 1937. Or who knows? Perhaps a distracted driver really did crash into a streetlight, dazzled by damsels in shorts dress. Even though it is so clearly set up, nevertheless the pic tells us something of the mainstream attitude to bare female legs in the ’30s. Even, it would seem, among the citizens of a large, sophisticated metropolis. It would be decades before such a naked display of fashion sense would pass without comment.

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