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The Power of a Single Image

November 20, 2015

By Matt Artz

It’s one of the most frequently reproduced and instantly recognizable photographs in history. The US Postal Service used the image on a stamp. Time magazine featured it on the cover. It was—and still is—“the most influential environmental photograph ever taken,” according to acclaimed nature photographer Galen Rowell.

In the run-up to the Apollo moon landings, Apollo 8 was the first mission to put humans in to lunar orbit. And on Christmas Eve, 1968, coming around from the far side of the moon during their fourth orbit, Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman exclaimed “Oh my God, look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up! Wow, that is pretty!” Fellow astronaut Bill Anders grabbed his Hasselblad camera and shot this now-famous image of earth rising above the moon.

800px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise

“Earthrise,” a photograph taken from lunar orbit by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. Image Credit: NASA / Bill Anders.

In his book Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth, historian Robert Poole suggests that this single image marked the beginning of the environmental movement, saying that “it is possible to see that Earthrise marked the tipping point, the moment when the sense of the space age flipped from what it meant for space to what it means for Earth.”

The power of imagery can be neatly summed up in the story of this single photograph. Images can help us to better understand our planet, drive change, create connections—and in some cases can even start a movement.

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