Twelve black and white photographs that don’t tell the whole story

(…read in spanish) 
Written by: Kurioso Translated by: Marta Aulet. Email Marta:


Some photographs are self-explanatory and some need a little prod. Snapshots that leave out of the frame remnants of the story they want to tell. They are great works of forgotten photojournalism, graphic proof for unusual events that, however, beg for a little explanation. I present you with an anachronistic walk along a few of them in black and white. I recommend you to imagine, before reading, the context for each of these suggestive or shocking images.


The charity thief

1998. Sudan. Ajiep refugee camp. More than a hundred people die each day waiting for a ration of rice to eat. The worst and most widely ignored hunger crisis in the country’s history has reached a peak. The international community, after months of apathy, manages to assist the country. British photographer Tom Stoddart accompanies a unit of Doctors Without Borders to the camp. There, in one of the endless queues to receive charity, he captures the image of a crippled child staring hopelessly at an adult holding a bag of cereal. The photograph doesn’t tell that five seconds earlier that adult had snatched the bag from the boy’s hands. The photographer was accused of passivity, sadly evoking the story of another tragic picture. Source, 2.


A bull in Gran Via. Madrid.Spain

1928. Sheep and cows from many livestock farmers in Madrid pasture daily on the bank of river Manzanares, which wiggles around the South of the city. One of the bulls escapes and sets his mind to cross the Bridge of Segovia towards the city center. Sowing and scattering feces and panic all over the most distinguished pavings of the realm. In Madrid, capital for the most pure crossbreeding, the bullfighting fandom didn’t run short, and so, as if (not) by magic, a bullfighter might just pop from around a corner, and he did. Diego Mazquiaran, or el Fortuna, will be remembered as the only bullfighter to ever kill a bull in the middle of Gran Via with cloak and sword. Source.


Shanty town in paradise

1930. US has barely faced up the Great Crash. A small shanty town has settled down in the most precious green grounds of New York nowadays, Central Park. They are named HooverVilles after the inefficiency of the US president at the time; Hervert Hoover. The forsaken are settled near the Belvedere Castle, close to soon-to-be named Depression street. The settlement disappeared in April 1933 when works for the park’s adaptation were resumed. Source, 2.


Hitler in camouflage

1914. Adolf Hitler enrols the Bavarian army despite being an Austrian citizen. Thrilled by the new war, on August the 2nd that year he attends a mass demonstration in Munich in defense of the declaration of hostility against Russia. The photograph isn’t a randomly rescued relic. The shot was taken, and later recovered, by Heinrich Hoffman, later the Great Dictator’s personal photographer. Source. 2.



1984. December 3rd. 42 tons of a strong pesticide escape into the atmosphere in the city of Bophal. India’s Baghdad. The poor maintenance and ongoing negligence shown by Union Carbide factory’s management caused a disaster of quixotic magnitude. More than 20.000 people died -and some are still dying- from de toxic cloud’s breakdown into cyanide, phosgene and other gases. The maternity section in Hamidia’s local hospitcal was blocked with miscarriages. The fetus were preserved and classified to investigate the causes of death. Source, 2.


The shirt swap that never happened

1966. Football world cup in England. The hosting team wins the quarterfinals against Argentina 1 – 0 after a very rough and controversial match. The local team’s coach, Alf Ramsey, had labelled the Argentinian players as barbarian and brute during the preliminary rounds. At the end of the match, he saw right back defender George Cohen trying to swap shirts with Argentinian Mario González. Without hesitation, he strode on to prevent the exchange under the attentive gaze of the photographer that immortalized that ofence towards basic sportsmanship principles. Source, 2.



1944. The majestic USS New Jersey battleship had served in the Fifth Fleet during the Allies occupation of Marshall Islands.  In December that year, serving in the US Third Fleet, it sailed to support the Allied forces that operated from the Philippines to Okinawa.  In the highly propagandistic photo, a Japanese prisoner is washing and delousing himself -completely naked- before putting on his service uniform and under the whole crew’s fixated gaze. Source, 2.


Children’s welcome comittee

1948. West Berlin. The Soviet Union had sieged the west side of the city and threatened with starving more than two million people to death. President Truman scheduled flights to distribute more that 700 tons of food weekly in a campaign called North America’s Airlift.  The first flights brought joy and relief to those under siege and anger to the Soviets. It took a year and more than 27.000 flights to completely break down the blockade in May 1949. Source, 2.


Head display

1938. Porto da Folha, Brazil. Gangs on the wrong side of the law were multiplying and operated with impunity on the northern half of the country. The authorities’ struggle to eradicate their illicit activities became paradoxical and outrageous when they started displaying trophies of arrested and prosecuted clans. In this picture, the famous Lampiao gang (Virgolino Ferreira da Silva, his wife Maria Gomes Bonita and his nine escorts) render their lifeless heads to the public scorn on the staircase of the Church of Santana do Ipanema. A fierce lesson that the police came up with to scare off those who tried to imitate the criminals. Source, 2.


The refuge’s solitude

1966. Texas. USA. Charles Joseph Whitman, student in the University of Texas in Austin, becomes the perpetrator of one of the most vicious massacres in the history of American universities until the Virgina Tech shootings in 2007. On August 1st that year he climbed up the campus tower armed with two rifles and two shawn-off shotguns. He killed 13 people and wounded 31. In the picture, a corpse lies very close to a hidden and terrified passer-by. Source, 2.


The empty space she left behind

1911. August 22nd. The Louvre’s walls in Paris wake up to an irreplaceable absence.  Half of Europe’s newspapers issued emergency editions with the empty space’s photo on them. The portrait that had once belonged to Louis XIV, decorated the chambers of Napoleon himself and came out of versatile master Leonardo da Vinci’s very own hands, had gone missing. An Italian carpenter hid in the distinguished museum’s basement the night before, unhooked the Gioconda’s eternal smile and tucked it under his workcoat. The painting was recovered a couple of months later. Source, 2.


The Kiss

1967. July 17th. Florida. North American photographer Rocco Morabito was working for Jacksonville’s local newspaper when a loud roar startled him on his way back to his car.  A worker for the national electricity network had suffered a 4.000 volt electric shock and hung unconscious at more than 12 meters high. While his colleague tried to resuscitate him with the kiss of life, Rocco took the opportunity to pull out his camera and photograph 1968’s Pulitzer prize. Source, 2.



This entry is part of the compilation trilogy on historic photographs or photography icons seen from a different perspective. Don’t miss the other two:

Man is the only animal that trips twice over the same photograph

10 historic photographs an instant earlier

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