We’ve all experienced how photography can capture a moment in time, but it’s a rare treasure when a photograph captures a moment in history. A moment that stops the world on its axis, that we as members of the human race can claim as a profound shared experience. These 20 inspirational photos are all moments like that.

Since the invention of photography in the 1800s, it seems that history has only accelerated every year, as generations continue to leave worlds unrecognizable from those which they were born into. We need photos. We need to stop for a moment and feel what we’ve just experienced. We need to know what this fleeting moment that we share on this planet means. We need to remember — the triumphs, the sacrifices, the trials we’ve faced and the miracles we’ve witnessed.

Every one of these inspirational photos is a milestone, a singular dot on the arc of history that is at once a culmination of all that came before it as well as a waypoint for all that follows.

1. First Flight (1903)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By John Daniels

Many had tried and many had failed, but on December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers became the first to achieve flight. It was John Daniels, in the emergency medical station, that snapped the shot just as Orville Wright left the ground, proof without which the world may have never believed what they did.

2. Swimming for Suffrage (1907)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
Via the Library of Congress

Activist Annette Kellerman poses  in 1907 for women’s right to wear fitted bathing suits. She was arrested for indecency.

3. Wait for Me Daddy (1940)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Claude P. Dettloff

A line of soldiers in British Columbia are off to war, as five-year-old Whitey Bernard escapes his mother to grasp for his father’s hand. The image captures what those men fought for, and forebodes the long fight ahead.

4. Prisoner Confronts Himmler

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
Via the Public Domain

Elite member of Hitler’s inner circle Heinrich Himmler is confronted during a visit to a German prisoner of war camp. A fearless act of defiance in the face of evil.

5. New Shoes (1946)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Gerald Waller

An overjoyed six-year-old Austrian boy gets a new pair of shoes from the American Red Cross after the war, and he embraces them. A lesson to the world in taking things for granted.

6. V-J Day, Times Square, a.k.a. “The Kiss” (1945)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Alfred Eisenstaedt

The news of Japan’s surrender signaled the absolute end of WWII and Americans flooded the streets of their cities in celebration. The sailor above was so overjoyed, he took to kissing every woman in the street, including the oldest grandmothers, but it was this image with a nurse that circulated the globe, embodying the exuberance of millions.

7. Gandhi at His Spinning Wheel (1946)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Margaret Bourke-White

This portrait of Gandhi just two years before his assassination came to be the defining image of his nonviolent struggle against oppression.

8. I Have a Dream (1963)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By AFP/Getty Images

The Freedom March on Washington was a seminal moment in the civil rights movement. The “I Have a Dream” speech would come to epitomize the fight for peace and equality of the 60s and for generations after. The inspirational photos of hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors at the National Mall captured the imaginations of millions in America and around the world.

9. La Jeune Fille à la Fleur (1967)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

During a Vietnam war protest for peace at the Pentagon, Jane Rose Kasmir inserts a flower along the bayonet of a guard. The shot would come to embody the message of the flower power movement.

10. Earthrise (1968)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By William Anders

This photo was captured from the moon’s surface during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. It is the first color image of Earth captured from space, and many argue that it birthed the environmental movement by showing us that we all share the same fragile blue ball.

11. Black Power at the Olympics (1968)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History

American gold and bronze medalists at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics raise the black power fist during the American National Anthem, bringing attention to the human rights cause of African Americans. The two athletes were subsequently expelled from the games.

12. Pele and Bobby (1970)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Colorsport

During a World Cup marred by racism and bigoted language, Brazilian player Pele and English captain Bobby Moore send a message to the world by trading jerseys in mutual admiration.

13. Tank Man (1989)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Jeff Widener/Associated Press

In June of 1989, students gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing to protest for liberal reforms and freedom of speech. The government massacred hundreds of peaceful civilians to disband the protests, but this photo of an unknown civilian standing in front of a line of tanks is one of the most inspirational photos in history, depicting bravery in the face of oppression.

14. The Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By AFP/Gerard Malie

The falling of the Berlin Wall meant so many things to so many people: the end of Cold War, the liberation of Soviet countries, the reunification of families and the reconnection of two worlds. This shot of East German soldiers creating a new opening in the wall behind jubilant Western crowds represented the daylight of freedom piercing the Iron Curtain.

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15. Mandela Freed (1990)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
Photo by Ulli Michel/Reuters/Corbis

Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison as an activist for racial equality came to symbolize the metaphorical imprisonment of black South Africans under the apartheid system. The images of his release from prison represented that equality was triumphing against oppression, and Mandela came to embody the ideals of forgiveness and reconciliation.

16. Sunset on Mars (2005)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell

NASA’s Mars Rover reveals to the world an eerily Earthly sunset from the surface of the red planet.

17. Same as Mine (2009)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Pete Souza/The White House

Five-year-old Jacob Philadelphia timidly asks President Obama if his hair feels the same as his own, and Obama obliges. This innocent moment came to symbolize the most basic and powerful impact of how seeing a black president affects generations of black children everywhere.

18. Shield of Unity in Egypt (2011)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Nevine Zaki

During the 2011 uprisings in Cairo, Egypt, when violent divisions threatened communities throughout the country, Christian Egyptians form a protective ring around Muslims in prayer, sending a strong message of peace and unity.

19. First Gay Marriage in New York (2011)

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Jason DeCrow/AP

Sometimes it takes a lifetime, but Connie Kopelov and Phyllis Siegel became the first gay couple to tie the knot in Manhattan.

20. Love Conquers All

20 Most Inspirational Photos in History
By Richard Lam/Getty Images

Amidst the chaos of hockey riots erupting in Vancouver, a young woman is knocked to the ground by riot police before her Australian boyfriend wraps her in a passionate embrace. In a decade marred by too much chaos, this image of irrepressible love captured the imaginations of the world.

Have you ever captured a piece of history? Show us history through your lens and share your inspirational photos to PicsArt photo editor with the hashtag #IWasThere.


Mark is a Staff Writer at PicsArt Photo Studio. Born in Boston, USA, he is now based in Paris, France.