We've all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, the stories that lie behind some of the most iconic photographs are harder to believe than the image (with or without photoshop). Stagings, chance encounters, tireless searches, complete strangers and even mythical creatures coalesced to create the most memorable images in the history of photography. Some were popularised by print magazines, others went viral on the Web, but all are accompanied by the progress of time and the development of photography.
\#10 Shabat Gula
The face of this young Afghan was etched on the visual history of the western world after appearing on the cover of "National Geographic" in 1985, when she was 12. The portrait was shot by Steve McCurry a year before being published in a shelter in Pakistan, where the girl was staying after fleeing from the war in her native country. Years later, the photographer made numerous trips to find her again, an ambitious goal with a minimal chance of actually being reached. But McCurry found his model again in 2002, now a 30 year old woman and mother of three daughters. It was then that he actually found out her name. The image reappeared on the cover of the magazine and although her face reflects the passage of time, her gaze is as intense as ever.
\#9 The greatest kiss of them all
Fake... Two strangers staged the most famous kiss in the history of mankind in a picture that appeared in Life magazine, in the issue published to celebrate the end of the Second World War. The image was taken by Victor Jorgensen in Times Square, New York, on August 14, 1945, close to the end of the war. The photo shows a soldier passionately kissing a nurse, who we then found out was not his actual partner but a stranger he had just grabbed from the crowd at the homecoming celebration of the American soldiers.
\#8 Marilyn Monroe's blown dress
One of the most popular photographs of Marilyn Monroe, who was once the greatest sex symbol of all time, portrays her holding down the fringe of her pleated cocktail dress as it is blown by a gust of air coming out of a subway's ventilation grating. That picture comes from a scene in the "The Seven Year Itch," filmed in 1954 in Los Angeles. It is not a still from the film, however, but a shot taken by an anonymous photographer. The evocative image by far exceeds the fame of the film itself.
\#7 A stranger on Abbey Road
A lot of people agree that this iconic album cover of The Beatles is among the most famous images in the history of music. It has also turned the real Abbey Road into one of London's most popular tourist sites, where visitors try to recreate their own version of the photo. What has intrigued many is the strange man who can be seen in the distance, in addition to the Fab Four, standing right between John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Years later it was found out that he was only a passer-by whose name was Paul Cole and was never famous for anything other than having stood on Abbey Road at the time of the photo-shoot. Before his death, he took a picture of himself holding the album's cover.
\#6 Web pioneers
Four women clad in bulky dresses became famous for being the first to appear in a photograph on the internet in 1990. The shot is a parody of the then current pop bands, and depicts an all-female group called Les Horribles Cernettes ("The Horrible CERNettes") referencing to their position as researchers at CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research). They even labelled themselves "the one and only High Energy Rock Band." This crudely retouched primitive digital image was the first image ever to be uploaded to the web, from CERN's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. But the image was not the end of the joke, they actually wrote, composed and recorded some songs where they sang about circuitry and particle colliders. They were even invited to several live TV shows.
\#5 A man of many talents
The first man on the moon set a milestone in the history of humanity and technology. His name was Neil Armstrong and leaving the first human footprint on the lunar surface turned him into one of the most famous men in the solar system. However, the one depicted in the mission's photographs next to the American flag isn't Armostrong, but the second man to walk on the satellite, his colleague Buzz Aldrin. The images were taken by Armstrong himself during the Apollo 11 mission he commanded. It turns out that, in addition to being a space ship pilot trained to face challenges no one had actually encountered before, he was a pretty decent photographer.
\#4 A tall break
The photograph "Lunch atop a skyscraper" was taken in 1932 in New York, USA, by Charles Ebbets. It is said to have been captured during the construction worker's break on the GE Building at the Rockefeller Centre. They can be seen eating on a beam suspended high above the city, with Central Park and the Manhattan skyline far below in the background. However, there are many who doubt the authenticity of this picture and argue that this is actually a hoax. It was published in the Sunday supplement of the New York Herald Tribune on October 2 of the same year.
\#3 A symbol of the revolution
The most famous photo of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, this picture has been reproduced millions of times not only in magazines or on the web, but in clothing, graffiti, stencils and decals. It was taken in 1960 in Havana by photographer Alberto Korda during a memorial to the victims of La Coubre's explosion, a French ship that that was docked in Havana's harbour unloading its freight. In the picture, Guevara's gaze seems fixed in a distant horizon, and he's wearing his classic black beret with its lopsided five pointed star. The image didn't become famous until seven years after this revolutionary leader's death, when the Italian editor Giangiacomo Fentrinelli got a hold of the rights to publish the "The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara" and printed the image on a large poster to promote the book. The famous facial caricature was created by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who first waived his copyright to the image to allow for students and revolutionary movements to use it. After decades of "misuse" by large corporations and advertisers, Fitzpatrick tried to re-invoke his rights to the icon.
\#2 A monstrous hoax
In 1934 the world was shaken by this picture of Nessie, a giant snake known as the "Loch Ness Monster" who had remained unseen and unknown to most until that moment. The image was shot by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, and it was taken by the gullible as evidence of the mythical creature's existence. With time, the world would find out that the picture was staged and sent to the Daily Mail in a complex revenge scheme Dr. Wilson participated in to help out his friend, Marmaduke Wetherwell, a former employee of the publication who resented having been fired.
\#1 You can't have missed this one
The place is difficult to recognise at first sight, since it's certain to have been heavily retouched on the computer. But it's no other than the Napa Valley in California, USA, where hills are usually covered with the vines that produce the region's world famous wine. This specific vineyard, however, had been infected by a plague and remained untouched between 1990 and 1995. After the vines had been chopped down, the grass was allowed to grow on the hillside. The image was taken by Charles O 'Rear. And this is, of course, the Windows XP's default desktop background.