“Controversy” Photo by BloggingPro

The credit for a few of our first encounters with controversial photographs goes to our parents. They have clicked some too embarrassing pictures of us. These photographs were clicked with the sole intention to elicit a laugh twenty years down the lane, and they cause as much controversy when shown to your friends or partner.

What a nightmare!

As much as you would like it, this blog is not about those controversial childhood photographs. When we talk about controversial photos, we mean those photographs that have hit the headlines due to the information or notion they disclosed. 


We have often come across photographs that stir up conversations and question societal norms. It is intriguing to find out about a mystery that got solved because an old picture surfaced in a remote part of the world. Flipping the coin, some photographs have been staged and deliberately captured so that they evoke a loud gasp! 

Controversial much?

Humans are as attracted to controversy as the English are to their tea. We like our breakfast with a cup of controversy to go with it, and that is exactly what attracted you to this blog!

Controversial Photographs can be narrowed down into two, and these are –


Like the name suggests, staged controversial photographs are those photographs the settings and placements of which have been decided beforehand.

A photographer brings out subjects and topics that are considered to be raw, real, or moot. The reason may be to shed light on specific concepts, raise awareness, or just to pop his/her creative capsule. Such photographs can be anything from bizarre to downright offensive. How the viewers take it depends on them!


Literally speaking, these are photographs that are not staged or set-up and still manage to cause controversy. These photographs may be controversial because of the story behind it. It may highlight an absolute truth that was otherwise deemed to be false, or it just may show a particular moment of power or something historical.

There have been a lot of instances wherein such photographs have been used as evidence to solve cases. 

It would be wrong to keep a curious carol waiting! So, let us dive right into ten of the most controversial photographs!


Many of these photographs are laced with violence, mystery, and the right amount of thrill.  Just a disclaimer: You will need to hold on to your seats for these because you may suffer from an acute case of bewilderment.


“Earthrise” Photo by William Anders from NASA

This picture dates back to December 24th, 1968, when man first landed on the moon. William Anders, one of the eight astronauts on the Apollo mission, captured this beautiful moment on camera. This was the first time that man saw the true beauty of the earth. It is a visual representation of history being made!

The picture was taken from the Lunar orbit. It was declared “The most influential environmental photograph ever taken” by renowned nature photographer Galen Rowell.


“Flower Power” Photo by Bernie Boston from  Wikipedia

Flower Power has initially been a mass protest against the Vietnam war in 1968. Where the American demonstrators opposed the guns with flowers, a daring statement is calling for non-violence. In the above picture, a protestor is seen dropping flowers into the rifles’ mouths that were aimed at him. 

The picture depicts power, courage, and a determination to end the atrocities taking place. Many such protests took place where protestors were either seen carrying flowers or wore floral clothes as a sign of resistance. Flower Power came to be known as a symbolic move. It was a hope for a better tomorrow. Hope to live in a world that is free from war.


“Abuse at Abu Ghraib” Photo by Wikipedia

In the above picture, a man is made to stand on a box. If he falls off, he gets electrocuted.

Abu Ghraib is a torture prison located in Baghdad. The number of disturbing facts that surfaced about Iraqi prisoners’ wrongful treatment who were mostly said to be innocent was as terrifying then as it is today. 

After Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the American military, which had partially handled the prison under his reign, now wholly took over. Its primary mission was to interrogate Iraqi suspects about the existence of chemical weapons in Iraq, and these interrogations often took an ugly turn. From instigating homosexual acts, forcing sleepless nights to electrocute the prisoners, no stone was left unturned. All the while dangling an “America is a friend of all Iraqi people” sign at the entry of the Abu Ghraib prison.


“Living with the enemy” Photo by Donna Ferrato 

The above picture came out when domestic abuse was a taboo topic in America. Donna Ferrato’s career started with her taking photographs of a couple living the “swinger” lifestyle. She would often live with them and photograph their moments of pleasure and celebration. 

One time at a party in their house, she followed them to the bathroom, hoping to capture more such moments but instead, she faced the dark truth of domestic violence. The husband slapped the wife and continued doing so until he got what he wanted. Donna Ferrato clicked these pictures of power and tried to stop the man from hitting the wife. She got pushed away in the process.

So began her journey as an activist cum photographer. These pictures exposed the truth behind marriages that seem to look happy from the outside but are often laced with violence. She further went on to encourage women to take the step of lodging a complaint and separation. In many cases, women had begun to live with the truth of domestic violence, and the only way to make them realize was to remind them of their children and the consequences they would have to face if she continued to live with it.


“Starving Child and Vulture” Photo by Kevin Carter from Wikipedia

The above picture symbolizes the scenario of a famine-stricken Sudan. A malnutrition child bent over in pain and hunger, and right behind him sits a vulture awaiting his death. Kevin Carter clicked this picture, and it became the heading photograph of every poster and newspaper in that period. Any organization trying to raise funds would feature the above photo as its cover. And anybody who saw this picture immediately rose to donate funds.

It undeniably shook the world, calling for humanitarian response. Kevin carter further went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, four months after which he committed suicide. He was traumatized by the scenarios in which he worked—a tragedy giving space for another tragedy to take place.


“Guerrillero Heroico” Photo by Alberto Korda

This photograph could be named one of the most iconic pictures ever to be taken. Che Guevara was an Argentinian doctor who led the Cuban Revolution in 1959. He became the face of revolution all around the world. People are trying to glorify him by wearing t-shirts or carrying posters with pictures of him printed on them.

The widespread use of this picture has almost commodified him. Various brands featured this picture in their advertisements to attract consumers, blindsiding the actual truth of him being a revolutionary hero.

Albert Korda, a fashion photographer, took this picture, oblivious to how iconic it would be. It has seamlessly traveled through tides of time and continues to do so. Initially, he did not copyright the picture and let the people use it, but the stupid reasons for which people used it upset him and Che Guevara’s family, making him decide to copyright the picture.


“Nagasaki 1945” Photo by Charles Levy from Wikipedia

The 1945 war ended in a terrifying way possible. Along with the UK and China’s consent, the US dropped two bombs within three days, one in Hiroshima and the second in the industrial city of Nagasaki. While the war in Europe had come to an end, the attention was now entirely on mainland Japan. Japan was warned to stop the war and surrender, but it gave no response to the warnings. The US assumed its silence to be a “no” and decided to end the war using atom bombs.  

One of the most destructive weapons that humankind has ever created is atomic bombs. The world saw death, pain, and disparity like no other.

This picture was one that the US put forth for the world to see. Charles Levy took the picture minutes after the explosion. The smoke was described as a mushroom engulfing the sky. Whether the US needed to take this step is still debated today. Many argue that it was just a show of power by the US, which was mass devastation.


“UNTITLED #96” Photo by Cindy Sherman

This self-portrait of Cindy Sherman was sold off for a whopping 3.89 million. Her portfolio consists of a series of self-portraits where she wears herself as different characters. In particular, this picture showed her in a somewhat vulnerable position, holding a torn out piece of what looks like a newspaper.

The picture has various contrasting aspects to it. While she looks like a naive school-going girl, the addition of blood-red nail paint, blush on her cheeks, and lipstick brings out a sexual interpretation.

It was the highest-selling photograph at that time, but its actual worth is still under debate.


“The 9/11 Terror” Photo by Thomas Hoepker From Magnum Photos

In the background, black smoke spreads out into the blue sky. In the foreground, five people leisurely enjoying their time in Brooklyn Park. Thomas Hoepker captured this photograph on the sad day of the 9/11 terror attack. He hid this photo from the public eye for many years. The minute it was printed out, it became a controversy and unquestionably so. The calm and smiling faces of happy people opposed the fear and loss that people felt on the other side of the river.

To the public, it was a clear depiction of the heartless and detached side of the population. But in due defense, no one would have known what was happening when it was happening.


“The Dying Polar Bear” Photo by Kerstin Langenberger

The photograph of a thin Polar Bear circulated the internet, causing an uproar among people. Kirsten Langenberger clicked a picture of a lean, sick-looking animal and posted it on the internet. She could not believe the response she got.

Climate Change was the most prominent reason for this damage. The melting of sea ice eliminated any chance of the Polar bear hunting for seals, leading to starvation. 

Svalbard in Norway had been a region inhabited by a large number of Polar Bears. Still, now the deaths have increased, bringing across a powerful statement that climate change is happening and something needs to be done.


Some stories are hard to tell and more challenging for a listener to visualize. This is where photography comes in. Capturing such stories by the click of a camera is what brings out a reaction. People can see the truth. They are challenged by the notions that exist and cannot be avoided. 

A few times in your life, you will come across pictures that may share your thoughts and question your mindset, or they may make you think a little deeper. Such images create an impact, and the way you perceive, certain things may never be the same again.

Those are controversial pictures and what they create is a controversy.

If you are new to photography, master it by attending various live online workshops regularly by us on our Events Website. Also, head to our Blog for more such tips and tricks about photography. You can subscribe to our digital magazine through Magzter or Issuu to delve into more organized and well-furnished photography content. And if you think you have learned a lot and you want to give it a check, then, proceed to our Contests content, participate there and win astounding prizes.

We hope you learned about some of the most controversial photographs. Do share your experience in the comment box & stay tuned with us through our Facebook & our Instagram Chiiz, Instagram Events, Instagram Contests pages. 

About the Author


Joyline Dmello, a BBA graduate with a new-found interest in content writing. She spends her days in the arms of social media and books when she is not doing either of those things, you can find her watching food documentaries on Netflix. In this ever-changing world, she has realized to live life one day at a time.

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