January 28, 2023

The Most Epic Photograph

One of my favorite questions on Quora is about the most epic photograph ever taken.  Here’s the “Pale Blue Dot” photograph, leading with the most votes. All the photographs are extraordinary and worthy of being considered the “most epic.” :

The picture came from Voyager 1 on the edge of the solar system, 3,762,136,324 miles from earth. Carl Sagan said this about the photo:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

The second highest rated is a photograph of a vulture watching a child die during the Sudan famine of 1993:

Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer for the photograph and then committed suicide. From an article in Time about Carter’s Pulitzer and suicide:

“Two months after receiving his Pulitzer, Carter would be dead of carbon-monoxide poisoning in Johannesburg, a suicide at 33. His red pickup truck was parked near a small river where he used to play as a child; a green garden hose attached to the vehicle’s exhaust funneled the fumes inside. ‘I’m really, really sorry,’ he explained in a note left on the passenger seat beneath a knapsack. “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.'”

Acclaimed war photographer Chris Hondros was recently killed in Libya.  More about Hondros and photojournalist Tim Hetherington, also killed covering the fighting in Libya in April.  Hetherington and Sebastian Junger made the Afghan war documentary “Restrepo.” Hondros and Hetherington died from a rocket propelled grenade attack. Here’s a photograph Hondros took in Iraq, 2005.

The girl’s reaction to seeing the photograph for the first time, now 12 years old:


Anyone interested in nature photography should check out the work of nature photographer Frans Lanting. Many of his photographs have been commissioned by National Geographic.



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