I work at LIFE.com, which is the online version of what once was the most prestigious and iconic photojournalistic publication, Life magazine.
It’s a pretty sweet job. I have access to millions of photos, including some of the most famous photos of all time (think anonymous sailor kissing a nurse when WWII ended), all of which appeared in Life first.
I’ve only been working for two weeks, but so far I’ve had an interesting array of assignments. Last week I compiled a gallery of attractive Kate Hudson photos, and the week before I worked on a gallery entitled, “Heavy Stuff Rolling on People.” I’ve also sifted through thousands of photos showing vintage New Orleans, and I got to choose some of the more incredible photos NASA has taken of hurricanes from space shuttles. But by far the most disturbing gallery I’ve worked on was for old time-y medicines, when I spent the day looking for photos of bloodletting and people getting lobotomies. Definitely had nightmares that night.
There are so many images, and so much history to sift through, that it’s easy to get lost and spend the day just reading captions. I used to be a photographer for UCSB’s school newspaper, and during that time I always thought how cool it was that I helped capture a piece of history, and if any one of the ten or so people in the world interested in looking at old photos of the Daily Nexus where so inclined, they could learn something from my photo. But it wasn’t until I worked on a gallery about religious conflicts that it really hit me: photos are important.
I spent a good chunk of that day looking at all the photos through the years of the Northern Irish Conflict. And then I saw a black and white photo from the 1970s of policemen running towards a riot in Belfast. Now, I don’t know exactly what happened after that photo was taken, but I do know what happened in that split-second. That moment, that miniscule amount of time has been documented. And because of the hundreds or maybe thousands of other photos depicting the conflict, we will always know details about the violence and horrors of this conflict, which probably helps discourage the people involved from reengaging in that conflict.
Now, the Northern Irish Conflict was my personal breakthrough, but back in 1990, Life had a photo on the cover that changed the world. The photo was of David Kirby, a man dying from AIDS, taken by Therese Frare. According to LIFE.com, this photo “became the one photograph most identified with the HIV/AIDS epidemic” and it “helped transform public perception of the disease.”