The turn of the century was an anxious time for many and a hopeful time for others. To a wary society, anything could happen in the next decade. Looking back on that time there were a myriad of events that shaped the world. And every so often during these events a photo would be taken perfectly captures the intensity of what took place.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine the stark reality of life outside of our protective bubble. We may be disillusioned by movies and media slammed in our faces everyday, but the real nature of tragedy still haunts even the most numb parts of our psyche. I believe that photographs have the capability of capturing in a way that no other media can. They can freeze time and give us the ability to analyze the world within the frame to understand every context of what is taking place.
The fantastical nature of popular media today likes to dramatize stories and lead you to believe the emphasis is greater than the meat of the story itself. However, there are times when the event that has taken place is so jarring on its own there is no need to further detail what is taking place. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I believe a well timed photo is worth a million.
The following photographs are events that have taken place between the year 2000 and the year 2010.
This is the Most Shocking Photos of the 2000s.
15. Air France Flight 4590 (2000)
This tragedy occurred as most typically do, by way of freak accident. During the takeoff procedure of flight 4590, the aircraft ran over some debris on the landing strip. The speed of this debris allowed it to puncture into the aircraft creating a shock wave that triggered one of the fuel tanks to rupture. Due to the speed of the plane the only option was to attempt a takeoff. This resulted in the plane’s ultimate demise (crashing into a nearby hotel) and the tragedy of the one hundred passengers, nine crew, and the four people on land who were struck by the flaming Concorde. The following investigation revealed that the plane had no choice but to crash and the flight was essentially doomed from the start. This event marked just the beginning of a decade of plane tragedies.
14. Elian Gonzalez (2000)
The young boy pictured is Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban undocumented immigrant whose American freedom is about to be terminated as he is pulled away from his father and sent back to Cuba. This photograph sparked a national conversation on immigration as the controversy involving the custody of this child was brought into question. Tensions rose as Elian’s portrayal brought a humanizing aspect to the topic and effectively stirred the pot between the two polarized social parties. Elian was ultimately sent to live with his step father in Cuba where he grew up under the communist regime and currently lives as a young man.
13. 9/11 (2001)
This tragedy needs no introduction. The horrible events that took place on September 11th, 2001 are now in the history books as one of the worst tragedies to take place on American soil. While no pictures can do justice to the inhumane nature of this event, the sizable destruction shown here as the second plane crashes into tower two definitely makes a statement. Seeing this image sparks the conversation on national defense and how to approach terror in the modern age. Not only can you see the size and scale of the explosions, but placing the context of the thousands that perished in the event draws the mind to imagine their final moments. This moment started the 21st century mindset of terror and is the defining moment of the war on terror in our country. This moment is without a doubt one of the most shocking moments in modern history as it brought the world to a complete and utter standstill.
12. Iraqi POW and Son (2003)
A direct juxtaposition to the previous entry, we see in this photo the other side of the American response to September 11th. In this photo we see an Iraqi man comforting his son in the US detention camp shortly after his father was arrested. One of the more humanizing responses to an intensely inhumane event. Talking about how war rips families apart is one thing, but seeing it is completely different. And seeing it in context to the supposed enemy is a heavy dose of empathy that is nontraditional in the western society. It creates not only an emotional connection to an otherwise demonized person, but it ushers in a flow of internal debate as to the purpose of fighting our neighbors. Many have asked over the years what war does for society, this question aims to answer that call with a simple visual response.
11. The Death of Tina Watson (2003)
This one comes with a story. Tina Watson (pictured in the background on the right) was diving with her newlywed husband Gabe Watson when disaster struck. During their honeymoon trip to Australia, the couple decided to venture out for a scuba adventure when Tina tragically drowned while this photo was being taken. Authorities arrested Gabe on the belief that he was responsible for her demise. Tina’s father insisted that Gabe had asked Tina to increase her life insurance and place Gabe as the sole beneficiary, thus resulting in an increased motive for foul play. The case was brought to an American court where it was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Eyewitness reports describe Gabe placing a ‘Bear Hug’ around Tina before returning to the surface to gain the assistance of their scuba instructor.
10. Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004)
We rarely get first person visual in terms of a natural disaster, but during the 2004 tsunami that rocked the countries bordering the Indian Ocean we saw just that. This image shows people scrambling to find shelter as a wall of water rushes over the beaches of Thailand. The earthquake that sparked this event (rated a 9.0 on the Richter scale) occurred in the Indian Ocean just off the coast from Indonesia and launched catastrophic waves into the surrounding countries creating mass destruction and thousands of lives lost. This earthquake was so sizable that it created aftershocks as far away as Alaska and it is now categorized as one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. One of the biggest tragedies about this event is that some experts say it could have been predicted with a 2002 fore-shock that occurred just two years prior.
9. Sunset on Mars (2005)
Ever since the dawn of rationality within Homo-Erectus, we have looked to the stars and wondered what life would be like on other planets. Well in 2005 NASA gave us the answer to that question with a visual of how life would see the sunset on Mars. Not only is this a statement to mankind’s expansion as a scientific species, but also an expression of possibilities that could occur in the future. Could this visual be a precursor to what we have in store in terms of space travel? Will one of our future generations walk out of their front door and the end of a long Mars day and see this image before their very eyes? While these questions cannot be answered at this very moment, it gives us something to aspire to in relation with our future scientific achievements. How we as a human race can grow and reach for the stars long enough to grab hold of one and pull it close enough to see what life is like there.
8. Hurricane Katrina (2005)
The power behind this photograph comes from the destruction behind the Hurricane Katrina of 2005. These two men are seen boating over what used to be roads that were demolished by the floods in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina was categorized as a category 3 hurricane as it swept across the Gulf of Mexico and destroyed the levees in New Orleans and caused over $100 billion in damages. You can see from this image the raw nature of the natural disaster as people resorted to any and all conditions in order to survive. Many sought shelter on the roofs of buildings as waves came crashing into their houses and places of work. Roughly 2,000 people perished in this event while even more were displaced from their homes and livelihoods. After years of relief efforts, New Orleans struggles to this day to return to its thriving society.
7. California Wildfires (2007)
California has become known for its intense droughts and wildfires over the past several decades. However the wildfires of 2007 was on a whole new level as it charred over a million acres of land across southern California. The efforts to smother these flames were aided by the United States Armed Services, the United States National Guard and even several firefighters from local Mexican cities. Over one million people were forced to evacuate making these wildfires the biggest evacuation in California history. It took 19 days and the lives of two firefighters to extinguish the last of the embers. The image seen above is the view from Santa Clarita, CA as the fires rage in the surrounding hills. It is also reported that one of the fires was started by a little boy playing with matches, so that shows just how quickly the situation can get out of hand when one plays with fire.
6. Guatemala Sinkhole (2007)
One of the most frightening feelings to a human being is having the ground fall out from under them, which is precisely what happened in the 2007 sinkhole in Guatemala City. A sewage pipe rupture caused this massive 100 meter-deep hole to form in the middle of the urban complex which resulted in the death of five people and the evacuation of over a thousand. The Guatemalan government spent $2.7 million in an effort to reroute the sewer pipelines and fill the hole. It begs the question of whether or not this or something similar could happen to your home or in your own backyard. This photograph is a clear reflection of how nothing is truly safe and you do not have to be close to a coastline to have disaster strike your own home.
5. Chile Lightning Volcano (2008)
Once in a blue moon, the raw power of an erupting volcano will create an electrical storm to further its intensity. This is exactly what occurred on May 6th, 2008 when the Chaitén Volcano in Chile erupted spewing tons of ash and lightning into the atmosphere. This behemoth of a storm cloud looks as though a titan is rising from the mythological ground and preparing to destroy the world. One has to wonder while seeing this image how far can someone be and continue to find sanctuary. Though I am sure that the photographer was miles away from the event, the scale of this mass must be cause for concern. Will this be what our world will look like in the end of days? Giant masses of volcanic ash and lightning that will overtake our land and claim it as their own. A frightening thought for sure and one that I hope I will not be present to witness.
4. Tropical Storm Hanna (2008)
Haiti has needed it’s share of relief over the years but not as much as the tropical storm Hanna in 2008. Though another, worse storm was yet to arrive in 2010, the 2008 Hanna was no laughing matter as it ravaged the poor country of Haiti killing close to 600 people in the process. The image that you see above is the residents of Haiti wading through the streets as they search for shelter. The magnitude of how much loss comes to this poor country is sizable by solely the lack of resources that they had readily available. This storm cost the United States alone 160 million dollars in relief funds. This means that Haiti, who received the brunt of the storm, must have suffered incredibly larger losses at a greater boon due to the poorer economic status. The tragedy in the situation is wrought with grief as you see the lives of the Haitian people torn apart with this destruction.
3. USS Annapolis (2009)
When you see the USS Annapolis break the ice in the northern arctic, it appears as though an unseen world is just coming to light from the depths. As though there is an entire ocean, brimming with life that explodes into view. This amazing image is actually a test to see the submarine’s capabilities in arctic waters. While this might be routine for the military it is not for the general public, and seeing an event such as this calls upon the question of what other military practices are happening just beneath the surface. What other incredible acts of mankind’s mechanical and technical power are we as bystanders simply not privy to. Depending on who you are this could be a frightening or comforting thought.
2. Cantaño Oil Fire (2009)
Welcome back to Armageddon. This time in Bayamon, Puerto Rico as the Cataño Oil Refinery catches fire in 2009. The initial explosion quickly spread to other tanks resulting in a massive explosion that registered as a 2.8 magnitude earthquake sending shock waves to nearby towns. Three people sustained non-fatal injuries. When you work with oil and gas you continually run the risk of fatal explosion. This is what makes oil rig employees and refinery employees some of the bravest men and women of our time.
1. Captain Sully (2009)
Finally, I leave you on an uplifting note with Captain “Sully” Sullenberger: American Hero. By now all of the world should be aware of his actions after being popularized in the hit feature film, Sully. In 2009 Captain Chesley Sullenberger saved the lives of all passengers and staff on board US Airways Flight 1549 by averting an otherwise catastrophe and landing his aircraft in the Hudson River. After landing the plane, Captain Sully was the last one to leave the airplane after landing on the Hudson to make sure all passengers were safe. The fame that followed him after this event carried him to The White House, where he was praised by President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama, and even given an invitation to the inauguration. Captain Sully’s actions will go down in history as a great airplane pilot, but also a staple of inspiration and hope against otherwise hopeless odds.