3 of the Most Controversial Photographs in History

Controversy is treated differently in each state. While most cultures revel at the opportunity of exploring a subject from all possible angles, and discussing about it in an educated, intellectual manner, other cultures to not approve of it. Controversies are a matter of opinion, and they may include a variety of topics such as religion, economics, science, age, gender, finances, history etc.

Lateral thinkers try to see the world in a different way, but this might not sit very well with the way that others think. Art has always been a subject of controversy, especially photography. Since the invention of the camera thousands of images have raised concern in the media and generated mixed signals. Today we would like to look at a collection of controversial photographs. They are definitely not the most controversial ones, but the stories behind them are interesting.

1. Piss Christ

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Let’s start things off with a truly controversial photograph: the Piss Christ, by Andres Serrano. This “artist” is well known for photos that use corpses, bodily fluids or feces (Ew!). Although he was raised in a Strict Roman Catholic family, Andres released this photograph in 1987 as part of a larger collection. It contains a small crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine. As you can imagine, the image caused a massive scandal, especially because it was sold for 15.000$ to the National Endowment for the Arts institute.

However, the message of the photograph was different than what you would think. Andres Serrano declared that the Piss Christ does not try to denounce religion, but rather allude to a perceived commercialization of Christian icons by modern culture. In 1997 a retrospective of the artist’s work was presented at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. During the show, the Piss Christ was attacked with a hammer by two teenagers.

2. Brooke Shields


If there were ever controversial photographs that managed to shock the entire world, they would have been taken by Garry Gross.  We will only display the cropped version of it. Long story short, the collection of photos show a ten-year-old Brooke Shields, in the nude. Teri Shields, the girl’s mother gave her consent, so the little one appeared in a sultry collection of photographs wearing make-up and oil.

The project, entitled The Woman in the Child aimed to reveal the femininity of prepubescent girls and was featured in Sugar & Spice and Little Women. Six years later, Brooke Shields tried to prevent the images of being used further, but the U.S. court said that she was bound by the terms of the contract and that the images did not breach child pornography rules. In 1992, Richard Prince purchased the rights to the photos and his version for 151.000 dollars.

3. Samar Hassan

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Chris Hondros won the American Pulitzer Prize for War Photographer. He travelled to Iraq in 2005, where he took one of the most iconic war photos. On January 18, he was in Tal Afar where he witnessed a car that failed to stop at an U.S. checkpoint. Fearing that it was a suicide bomber, the army opened fire on the vehicle, killed the two parents inside and injured the 5-year-old Samar Hassan.

Chris Hondros captured this image of the child, in her mother’s blood. Like the Vietnamese girl running after a napalm attack, this image quickly became viral, especially because the Iraq War was so dangerous for photographers. Samar Hassan saw the picture for the first time in 2011, and in an interview for the New York Times Middle East she said that her family was returning with her brother from the hospital. Chris Hondros was killed in Misrata by a mortar attack in 2011.

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