Iconic Still Photography

What makes an image iconic? What turns a photograph from an image to an icon? By definition, an icon is a pictorial representation. An iconic image is an image that strikes emotion. While looking through The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011, emotions of shock, sadness, disbelief, & happiness make these images memorable. Either intentional or unintentional, the photographers of these images have captured a moment that may have never been experienced. For example, this image to the right was taken at the exact

right moment when the officer was spraying the pepper spray into the  face of a protestor. The viewer can almost feel the pain of the protestor just by the reaction on her face and sense the unexpected response of the officer by the nonchalant audience. Through a single image, a powerful message is sent to the viewers.

Besides evoking an emotion, there are other elements that make an iconic image.

The image induces public opinion: Images are open for interpretation and may not have a single meaning from one person to the next. However, no matter what the image is representing, there is always some form of message. Depending on how the viewer takes the message, public opinion and action may be induced. Using the above image as an example, this photo from an occupy movement protest may either frustrate people and make them join the protestors or scare them. Either way, there has been some reaction and opinion made about the occupy protests.

The image is well-known: Most iconic images are well known.  Julia DeIuliis wrote, “For an image to be iconic, a lot of people need to have seen it and be familiar with it.” The Mona Lisa is a good example of a well known, iconic piece. Everyone has seen the painting and it is impossible to replicate it because most people know the original so well.

In order for an image to be iconic, it does not have to be taken from a shared experience. Some of the most powerful and well known images come from a shared experience or event, however, like September 11th. But an image can give power and awareness to a whole different experience even if it was not a shared event.


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