I was recently looking at TIME’s 100 Most Influential Photos of All Time, when I realized this: a photograph is a single image; one small instant out of a day’s 86,400 seconds, yet within this single frame lies an unexpected and incredible amount of power. Some of these images capture so much raw meaning in only a single moment: the tired worry of the Migrant Mother, the youthful excitement of success in The Pillow Fight, and the frustration of American Gothic all come through brilliantly and beautifully in merely a lone frame. No words are spoken, no text is written; all meaning and emotion comes through the actors, their props, and their surroundings. Photographs are bookmarks of their context; they tell stories of their history and circumstances to the viewer by reminding us of the humans who lived through them, whether they be in front of the camera or behind it.
What’s more, these powerful bookmarks often inspire change. Fire Escape Collapse helped enact tougher fire-safety laws across the nation; Oscars Selfie created a whole new genre of self-portrait-esque photography that’s still incredibly popular today; The heart-breaking reality of the Alan Kurdi photograph inspired entire countries to open their borders to Syrian war refugees. The power of the photograph is monumental, and its important to remember that as we study and hone our craft.