Some photographs are destined to be ruined and forgotten. Some photographs are destined to be remembered and cherished – such as this infamous portrait which almost did not make it.
LIFE magazine’s first female photographer, Margaret Bourke-White, covered the impending Indian independence movement in 1946. She was given the rare photo opportunity to take photographs of Mahatma Gandhi, the ideological leader of India and one of the most eminent figures of the 20th century.
Bourke-White needed to painstakingly prepare for the photo session because Gandhi was meticulous: he disliked bright lights so strong illumination was not allowed and he was not to be spoken to (it was his day of silence). Furthermore, she had to learn to spin the wheel herself before she could take his photographs. She overcame all these challenges and hindrances without hesitation.
In order to yield this enduring photograph of Gandhi, Bourke-White underwent a series of misfortunate events. She experienced technical hurdles at her first and second attempts: one of her flashbulbs failed and a blank slide was rendered because she forgot to insert it. But in spite of India’s humid weather at that time and, perhaps, the knot in her insides, she kept her cool, succeeded at her third attempt, and came away with this remarkable photo of Gandhi at his spinning wheel.
This significant photograph became one of his best portraits and it is easily recognized in the whole world. Less than two years later, he was assassinated. With this portrait, Bourke-White commemorated Gandhi’s vision for the rest of the world to see.
Which other photographs do you think are influential? Post a hyperlink to the image in the comments – if you know it, please include the photographer’s name and the year the photo was taken.
Our intention with the Influential Photographs columns is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.