People these days seem to underestimate the real value and artistry that photography can bring to the table, as it is practically “time-travel made simple”; within the span of seconds, anyone can capture and encapsulate any moment, whether significant or casual, anywhere and everywhere, essentially stopping time within the eye of the camera. It can transport us to important past events and moments in history that would otherwise be impossible to achieve without its aid.
Whether it’s for those who want to don rose-tinted glasses once again, or for others wanting to learn from our accomplishments as well as our mistakes, this landmark invention has done countless wonders for humanity. That is, until your mother shows your fiancee those baby pictures you thought you destroyed years ago. Then it suddenly becomes a lifelong quest to destroy the camera menace.
But even the most mundane photographs can introduce an entirely different set of emotions when the curtain reveals what happened behind the scenes. From photos taken moments before tragedy, to snapshots that give us more questions than answers, there are some splinters in time that very few would want to revisit when given the proper context of the situation. This is merely a handful of them.
15 The Terra Nova Expedition
This picture showcases a party of worn out and seemingly defeated explorers in the Antarctic, all of whom having been seared by the severe temperatures (averaging around -90 degrees F), undoubtedly plagued with frostbite, and bearing a heavy aura of failure. These were the members of the Terra Nova Expedition, helmed by Captain Robert F. Scott of the Royal Navy, their ambition being the first men to reach the South Pole, not knowing that a group of Norwegians had already beaten them to it by a month. This moment on camera would also be their last, as they would eventually succumb to the unforgiving wilderness only a few hours later.
What makes this photo even more grave and unsettling was the final journal entry of Captain Scott, detailing his dire situation before expiring:
“Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God's sake look after our people.”
Only a few bodies of the crew were recovered.
14 David Alexander Johnson
David A. Johnson was a volcanologist for the United States Geological Survey agency who was sent to the state of Washington to observe the seismic activities of Mount St. Helens. He volunteered to take the place of another scientist and man their outpost, one that was a mere 6 miles from the massive volcano. This casual picture of him kicking back and relaxing by his trailer was taken only 13 hours before his death.
On May 18th, 1980, Johnson and several other scientists noticed abnormal events surrounding gestating within the volcano, prompting the anticipation of an eruption within minutes. When it finally did, it released a massive wall of hot gas and debris that tore through the forest at supersonic speeds, reaching Johnson’s post within seconds. Before being enveloped by the chaotic blast, Johnson managed to send out his final words to his fellow workers:
“VANCOUVER, VANCOUVER! THIS IS IT!”
His radio then went silent, and his body was never found.
At first glance, one would assume that this is merely a child at school drawing odd shapes during recess. Upon closer inspection, the tangled lines seem to form some sort of warped hallway; the child looking towards the camera with an eerily blank face and piercing, vacant stare. Given the opportunity, one would ask the obvious question: What is this drawing?
To which the child would reply, “Home”.
This is a photo of a girl named Tereska residing in a housing complex for disturbed children drawing her aforementioned “home”. The erratic scribblings resemble the endless fences and coils of barbed wire of a Nazi concentration camp where she was sent to. This image imprints a tragic and obvious fact into our memory: Physical scars may heal and fade, but the wounds of a ravaged mind do not.
12 Deadly Mischief
High school photos are meant to serve as a reminder of our youth, our transitions into adults, and the fact that puberty is hell incarnate. This portion of a high school group photo shows, among a few others, two teenage boys joking around and pointing invisible guns at the camera. What is being depicted as normal horseplay was actually a grim foreshadowing of the events that would soon follow.
This is the last photo of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, a pair of students that would go on a killing spree at Columbine High School, ending the lives of 13 students and wounding 24 others.
Although the two mentioned in their journals before the massacre that they wanted to be famous for their crimes, being victims of constant, severe bullying was also a motivating factor for the shootings.
11 The Language of the Dead
What comes to mind when this unremarkable slab of concrete appears before your eyes? The scuffed-up floor of a factory? A hallway that has seen too many days? The latter description is partially true; it is a photo of a wall of a large room, one that housed men, women, and children for a temporary amount of time before their silent bodies were replaced with living ones.
This room was called a gas chamber, one located in an Auschwitz concentration camp. The various marks on this particular wall are those of fingernail scratches, a result of Jewish prisoners desperately trying to claw away from an inevitable demise.
The adage goes that “a picture alone says a thousand words”. In this instance, the photo tells the stories of 6,000,000 innocent human beings; the horrifying marks bearing a message that is not in any language, but is something that anyone can understand without an interpreter.
10 Innocence is (Not) Bliss
Exploration is a basic human instinct, fuelled by either curiosity, a lust for knowledge, pure adrenaline, or all of the above. Whatever their motivations were, a pair of brothers, Sean and Michael McQuilken, climbed to the top of Moro Rock in California’s Sequoia Park in 1975. With their hair suddenly becoming askew and erratic, the amused brothers saw fit to commemorate this bizarre happening with a photograph, showcasing a moment of childhood innocence and joy.
Unfortunately, this would be their last fond memory together, as a massive lightning bolt barrelled through the clouds and struck both the brothers and the photographer within minutes after the picture was taken. Michael died instantly, but Sean and the other person survived. After recovering from being in a coma for 6 months, irreversible brain damage forced Sean to take his own life in 1989 after suffering for nearly 15 years.
9 A Cavalier’s Final Destination
A family vacation is supposed to be a release from everyday stresses, be it from work, utility bills, or just wanting to break through the mundane and explore locations you’ve only seen in photos and books. This Spanish father and daughter thought that this venture into Ireland would be something unforgettable and eye-opening. Unbeknownst to them, they thought right, in the worst way imaginable.
This photo taken in 1998 in the town of Omagh contains more than just a family moment, it also shows a murder weapon that almost ended their lives. The red Cavalier to the right of the family was rigged with explosives and detonated by an Irish terrorist splinter cell in protest of the Good Friday Agreement. Although the father and daughter survived, 29 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the blast.
8 The Year of Black September
An image of someone in a ski-mask is unnerving on its own as it can conjure up many scenarios in one’s head, a bank robbery being the most likely option to choose. This is hardly the case in this picture, as the motivations and events behind it are much more grim and horrific. This took place during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, but instead of being remembered for good sportsmanship and unity, it became a notorious page in the book of history. One soaked in blood and iron.
A clan of Palestinian terrorists called Black September was formed in 1970 to target King Hussein of Jordan, who was responsible for the deaths and ejections of thousands of Palestinians after declaring military rule. The man seen here, along with 7 accomplices, had just taken hostage 9 Israeli athletes after killing 2 others. By the end of the day, all of the hostages would be slaughtered.
7 The Deceiving Grin
Although a smile commonly portrays joy and contentedness of a person, the context of the emotion can be as broad as the Great Plains. This boy pictured here, a young Varg Vikernes, is seen flashing a grin at the camera. Vikernes is the brainchild of “Burzum”, a one-man black metal project that was formed in Norway in the early ‘90’s alongside other bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone, the former of which had close ties and an eventual dispute with Varg.
A firm believer in Norse mythology was well as being vehemently anti-Christian, Vikernes took his beliefs to an extreme, and committed a string of arsons that resulted in the destruction of multiple churches in Norway. He was also responsible for the murder of his business partner, Oystein “Euronymous”, who was found stabbed 23 times outside his apartment after a heated struggle.
This still image shows Varg in a courtroom being sentenced to 21 years in prison for the aforementioned crimes committed in the mid-90’s. Though, instead of showing fear and remorse, he simply grins at the courtroom, unmoved at the sentence given in 1997. He was released after 16 years, and now resides in France.
6 Memento Mori
If horror films taught us anything, it’s that old photos such as the one shown above are always creepy and always containing a hideous and terrifying backstory. Obviously, horror is comprised mostly of fiction and is always a genre of exaggeration. However, if you study the picture carefully, you may find, if you haven’t already, that there is something “off” about the people posing for their portrait; they, especially the woman in the middle seem stiff, expressionless, cold, and even lifeless. That’s because this is an actual portrait of a dead woman aided by her relatives beside her.
For some inexplicable reason, families in the 19th century thought it would be a totally normal and not-horrifying-in-the-slightest thing to do to pose with a recently deceased relative in memoriam, even having mothers cradling their dead babies in their arms for a final photograph. Because nothing screams “Kodak moment” like dragging a stiff, cold, decomposing corpse across the room, all dressed up and ready for what would undoubtedly become one hell of an awkward conversation piece with the neighbours.
5 The Happiest Place on Post-Apocalyptic Earth?
While Disney is busy buying and marketing everything in existence, times were simple back then. You didn’t have an over-saturation of remakes, reboots, stagnant animated films, endless sequels, and mountains of merchandise being drilled into your many consciences everyday. Disney was just a budding company destined to entertain and educate people of all ages, with animated films, toys, and WWII Mickey Mouse army gas masks to protect the little ones from the horrors of gas warfare. Wait…
Yes, this actually happened. After the Pearl Harbor attacks, people were understandably worried about what would happen next. Seeing as a regular-sized gas mask wouldn’t fit all children, Disney approved the idea of implementing their mascots’ joyful face on thousands of gas masks across the country. This would make it so the children would think that they would be playing a game. One that’s filled with screams of anguish and pain, flying shrapnel, decapitated corpses, and the ever constant fear of your lungs burning up inside you.
You know, fun for the whole family!
4 "Dead" is Dead
This man pictured above is Per Yngve Ohlin, a.k.a. “Dead”, the former frontman for the black metal group Mayhem. While what is shown here is a seemingly normal teenager hanging out with friends in the woods, you ought to know by this point that it’s anything but natural. Mayhem in the early 90’s was a part of a new wave of heavy metal originating in Norway, and unlike bands like Slipknot, Alice Cooper, or even Kiss, Mayhem didn’t pretend to be sinister and insane. Those traits were already embedded in their DNA.
For starters, “Dead” had an unhealthy obsession with corpses and death in general. He was so fascinated in fact, that he buried his clothes six feet underground days before an upcoming performance to channel the feeling of being a living corpse. He would also carry a dead crow in a bag and “inhale the stench of death” from time to time. Now all of this could be written off as someone being WAY too involved in their stage character, but this is only half of the story.
One day, one of the band members found himself locked out of the house that the group was living in, so he climbed through an open window and stumbled across his frontman “Dead” who, fittingly enough, had blown his brains out after slitting his wrists; his suicide note read, “Excuse all the blood”. Instead of calling the police, the man did the logical thing to do; go to the nearest store, buy a disposable camera, and take pictures of “Dead’s” corpse, one of them being used as the cover for a Mayhem bootleg album.
Also, his bandmates took pieces of “Dead’s” skull and made necklaces out of them. And they still perform live wearing said necklaces.
But hey, you gotta market to the angsty teen demographic somehow, right?
3 California Scheming For Such A Bloody Day
The 1960’s was a decade that obliterated the door of the collective American conscience, opening up a brave new world that laid down the blueprints for social revolution and reform, civil rights, sexual liberation, political upheaval, and massive innovations in science and music. One of the more notable events of the ‘60s was the “Summer of Love” in 1967, where tens of thousands of young people flocked to San Francisco to put those same blueprints to good use. While the sun shined brightly, spreading welcoming arms to everyone, a ruinous evil was slowly brewing that would eventually blot out the sun, leaving the end of the legendary decade swathed in darkness.
This family of hippies happily lounging around hardly seem like the archetypes for destruction, and they weren’t. Instead, they were just marionettes, dancing to the tune of Charles Manson. This photo shows the Manson family as a group of harmless, peace-loving teenagers wanting to make a difference in life in any way possible. Which they did, albeit in the most horrific way possible; breaking into the house of filmmaker Roman Polanski, they butchered his then-pregnant wife Sharon Tate along with her guests, infamously writing the words “PIG”, DEATH TO PIGS”, and “HEALTER SKELTER” with Tate’s blood shortly after.
Instead of a joyous, promising end, the final act of the 1960’s concluded with the entire theatre burning down, the future becoming ominous as the ashes clouded the blue sky above.
2 All Quiet on the German Farm
Here we see the Gruber family on their farmstead Hinterkaifeck, situated in Bavaria, Germany. Not much is known about the family themselves, but their final moments, as well as the events leading up to it, are widely known as one of the most horrific and mysterious crimes in history.
Days before their demise, suspicious activities started occurring around the farm in subtle increments; Andreas Gruber, the father, noticed footprints leading from the forest to the house, but none returning; footsteps were heard in the attic; a newspaper from another town showed up out of nowhere; the house keys vanishing into thin air. The maid on the farm decided to leave six months prior, undoubtedly making the best career decision of her life, claiming that the farm was haunted.
Unfortunately, the replacement maid had the exact opposite outcome, her first day starting mere hours before the massacre. That night, the entire family, including their two daughters, an infant son, and the maid, were butchered with a small hatchet. It is said that they were lured into the barn, where they would meet an untimely end. It is also rumoured that one of the daughters was still alive, watching helplessly as her family was killed before her.
This photo was one of the few, and final, taken of the family, alive and breathing.
1 Flashing Before Their Eyes
Despite your eyes telling you otherwise, this is not a cleverly placed photograph of a child playing jump-rope, an image of Banksy’s latest work, nor is it graffiti at all. Well, at least not intentionally anyway. This isn’t the only one either; you can find many others scattered throughout Hiroshima, Japan. This photo was taken long after the atomic bomb detonated above the city in 1945.
The bomb was so staggeringly powerful, that the “flash” during the detonation left these “shadows” all over the city, the last moments of the fallen etched forever into the stone and concrete. A grim reminder of the price of war.
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