Great Photoessays

Digital photography, citizen journalism, Instagram, TikTok or other social media did not kill photojournalism as it was often glumly foretold. Yet, one revered art form in the world of photography had suffered greatly: the photoessay.

Instant photography has created an environment where individual photos often take precedence over cohesive narratives. Images are often consumed in a rapid-scrolling manner, making it difficult for a longform essay with subtlety and depth to capture people’s attention or come to foreground.

Instant sharing also lacks the careful curation and storytelling that defined great photoessays. General decline of print media, where several photos are narratively linked together and sometimes accompanied by an editor or another journalist’s take on the events depicted, has contributed to the photoessay’s slow decline.

The photo essay was not invented by one man or in one place but it began in the Weimer Germany in the late 1920s with illustrated weeklies in Berlin and Munich. When Hitler came to power, many of these men who worked on these weeklies, many of them Jewish or immigrant, like editors Stefan Lorant and Kurt Safransky, photographers like Alfred Eisenstaedt, left to other countries where they helped found magazines like Picture Post and LIFE. After the end of World War II, with television providing news images faster, the magazines focussed more on innovative story-telling and in-depth investigative looks.

Now, while it isn’t entirely extinct, the photoessay definitely faces challenges. Here at Iconic Photos, we recognize that this art form still has its place for those who appreciate the depth, context, and storytelling power it offers. As such, on this page, we are curating past great photoessays from various publications.

Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe in Soligny
Andre Kertesz
Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung – January 6, 1929

Behind Closed Doors
Erich Salomon
Fortune – September, 1932

Pension.
Photographers Unknown
Fortune – January, 1933
(Art director: Eleanor Treacy)

Fasching Festival
Alfred Eisenstaedt
Munchener Illustrierte – February 26, 1933

Mr. G.
Photographer unknown
Munchener Illustrierte – March 5, 1933
(Editor: Stefan Lorant)

Mussolini.
Felix H. Man
Münchner Illustrierte Presse – 1931
Weekly Illustrated – August 4, 1934

Hitler’s Take-over
Martin Munkacsi
Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung – March 26, 1935

Chamberlain and the Beautiful Llama.
Photographer unknown
Lilliput – July, 1938
(Editor: Stefan Lorant)

Golden Gate Bridge
Peter Stackpole
Life Magazine – May 31 1937

Candidate Taft Stumps Florida
Robert Capa
Life Magazine – February 19, 1940

The Lindy Hop
Gjon Mili
Life Magazine – August 23, 1943

Rodeo
Hy Peskin
Look Magazine – January 22, 1946

How America Lives
Various Photographers
Ladies Home Journal – 1940 – 1960
Editor: John G. Morris

People are People the World Over
Various Photographers
Ladies Home Journal – 1948 – 1949
Editor: John G. Morris

The Roosevelt Face in the Roosevelt Recession
Thomas D. McAvoy
Life Magazine – January 24, 1938

And Again! Back to School
Kurt Hutton
Picture Post – October 8, 1938

Returning of the Austrian Prisoners
Ernst Haas
Heute – August 3, 1949
Life Magazine – August 8, 1949

There Was a Christmas in Korea
David Douglas Duncan
Life Magazine – December 25, 1950

Hunger
Werner Bischof
Life magazine – May 28, 1951
Look Magazine – February 10, 1953

Everything Goes on in a Roman Piazza
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Life Magazine, July 20, 1953

Old Age
Cornell Capa
Life Magazine – July 23, 1959

The Sioux Indians
John Vachon
Look Magazine – April 19, 1955

Air Age: Man’s High New Realm
Howard Sochurek
Life Magazine – June 18, 1956

Image of Japan
Art Kane
Look Magazine – September 10, 1963

Cutting the Waves for a Classic Cup
George Silk
Life Magazine – August 24, 1962

Ominous Spectacle of Birmingham
Charles Moore
Life Magazine – May 17, 1963

Ku Klux Klan
Paul Gelinas
Paris-Match, September 14, 1963

The Segs
Carl Fischer
Esquire – January, 1964

The Lash of Success
Grey Villet
Life Magazine – November 16, 1962

Le Duel de Moscou
Elliott Erwitt and Lucien Nau
Paris-Match, August 8, 1959

What Makes Sammy Davis, Jr, Run?
Burt Glinn
Esquire – October, 1959

The Way-Out Way of Life
Cal Bernstein
Look Magazine – September 25, 1962

Flowers
Farrell Grehan
Life Magazine – April 3, 1964

Transport – Discards and Dream
Ralph Crane
Life Magazine – June 20, I960

“The flames rise” (Nehru’s funeral)
Eliot Elisofon
Life Magazine – June 5, 1964

Pioneers airmen
Douglas Kirkland
Look Magazine – January 12, 1965

Picasso
David Douglas Duncan
Paris Match – April 12, 1958
Look Magazine – October 13, 1959

Siddhartha
Will McBride
TWEN – July 7 1969

Vida Dificil
Claudia Andujar
Realidade – July 1968

Sweetness and Tang
John Loengard and Bert Stern
Life Magazine -November 23, 1962

Sur sa toile (Chagall)
Izis
Paris-Match – September 26, 1964

“… to be self-evident …”
Art Kane
Look Magazine – January 15, 1963

Danger flare and flight’s end
Howard Sochurek
Life Magazine – February 10, 1961

The King’s Sword
Robert Lebeck
Paris Match – July 9, 1960
Life Magazine – July 11, 1960
Kristall – No. 16, 1960

Sharpeville Funeral
Peter Magubane
Drum Magazine – May 1960

Vertical Journey
Diane Arbus
Esquire – July 1960

Life In A Delhi Slum
Kishore Parekh
The Hindustan Times – May 30, 1961

The Incredibles
Irving Penn
Look Magazine – January 9, 1968

The Beatles
Richard Avedon
Look Magazine – January 9, 1968

Cuba
Ed van der Elsken
Avenue Magazine – December 1967

Nuba Wrestlers
George Rodger
National Geographic – February 1951

Sophia Loren’s Villa
Alfred Eisenstaedt
Life Magazine – September 18, 1964

Vietnam War – In Color
Larry Burrows
Life Magazine – January 15, 1963

Crete
Irving Penn
Vogue – January 15, 1965

La Liberation de la France: Ils Debarquent
Various photographers
Paris-Match – June 6, 1964

Les coupeurs de tete…
Tony Saulnier
Paris-Match – June 16, 1962

“Face of pleasure”
Photographers unknown
Look Magazine – January 12, 1965

“Some leaders are odd and gaudy”
James A. Kern and Nina Leen
Life Magazine – February 19, 1965

Archer and warrior
Burt Glinn
HOLIDAY – November, 1960

Braque
Marc Riboud
Paris-Match – September 14, 1963

The Beauty of Swedish Women
Irving Penn
Look Magazine – February 9, 1965

Campaign to beat all the birds
Howard Sochurek
Life Magazine – February 10, 1961

Joy eludes a chant
Paul Fusco
Look Magazine – July 28, 1961

Girls grow up fast in the City
Paul Fusco
Look Magazine – July 28, 1964

The magic of this forest floor
Irving Penn
Look Magazine – February 9, 1965

The amazing laser
Fritz Goro
Life Magazine -January 11, 1963

Beauties Of The Common Tool
Walker Evans
Fortune – July 1955

Gaza
David Douglas Duncan
Colliers – August 3, 1956

Heroes of Budapest
Various photographers
Paris Match – November 10, 1956

Refugees At The Swiss Border
Waldemar Dürst
Die Woche – November 12, 1956

New York
Yuri Zhukov
Ogoniok – January 1957

Vallejismo
Héctor García
Ojo Magazine – October 1958

How It Feels To Be Black In South Africa
Ernest Cole
Sunday Times Magazine – November 27, 1967

A Matter of Reasonable Doubt
Abraham Zapruder
Life Magazine – November 25, 1966

Olympians
Bruce Weber
Interview – January/February 1984

Love Parade
Wolfgang Tillmans
I-D – September 1992

James is a Girl
Nan Goldin
New York Times – February 4, 1996

A Vision of Iran
Gilles Peress
The New York Times Magazine – June 15, 1980

Somalia
James Nachtwey
The New York Times Magazine – December 6, 1992

Wreck of Titanic
Robert Ballard et al
National Geographic – December 1985; December 1986; October 1987

Madidi, Will Bolivia Drown its Spectacular New National Park?
Joel Sartore
National Geographic – March 2000

Franklin Roosevelt Has a Wild West
Margaret Bourke- White
Life Magazine – November 23, 1936

A Woman Photographs the Face of a Changing City
Berenice Abbott
Life Magazine – January 3, 1938

Back to the Middle Ages
Picture Post – November 26, 1938

War Photographers
Various
Life Magazine – November 5, 1945

The Private Life of Gwyned Filling
Leonard McCombe
Life Magazine – May 3, 1948

Country Doctor
W. Eugene Smith
Life Magazine – September 20, 1948

A Last Look at Peiping
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Life Magazine – January 3, 1949

China
Rolf Gillhausen
Stern – December 1958 – March 1959

China
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Life Magazine – January 5, 1959

Fight Trainer
Elior Elisofon
Life Magazine – February 12, 1951

Limbo
Simpson Kalisher
PAGEANT – November, 1955

The Congressional
Robert Frank
FORTUNE – November, 1955

The Real West Side Story
Paul Fusco
Look Magazine – February 16, 1960

Chartres
Gjon Mili
Life Magazine – December 15, 1961

Christmas at Cuzco
Irving Penn
Vogue – December, 1949

Monsoon
Brian Brake
Life Magazine – September 8, 1961
Paris-Match, September 23, 1961
Epoca, October 1, 1961
The Queen – October 11, 1961

Ballad of the Bird
Saul Leiter
Esquire – December, 1957

Ballet Folklorico
Herbert M. Migdoll
AMERYKA. (Polish Edition), No. 73, 1965

Displaced Germans Pour Unwelcome into Berlin
Leonard McCombe
Life Magazine – October 15, 1945

Bad Boy’s Story
Ralph Crane
Life Magazine – May 12, 1947

Harlem Gang Leaders
Gordon Parks
Life Magazine – November 1, 1948

Spain
Dmitri Kessel
Life Magazine – April 4 1949

Childbirth
Wayne Miller
U. S. CAMERA – 1949

Nurse Midwife
W. Eugene Smith
Life Magazine – December 3, 1951

Winter in Maine
Kosti Ruohomaa
Life Magazine – February 26, 1951

Spanish Village
W. Eugene Smith
Life Magazine – April 9, 1951

A Portfolio of Distinguished Britons
Alfred Eisenstaedt
Life Magazine – January 14, 1952

A New Way to Look at the U.S.
Margaret Bourke-White
Life Magazine – Apri 14, 1952

The Prairie
Howard Sochurek
Life Magazine – December 15, 1952

Three Mormon Towns
Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams
Life Magazine – September 6, 1951

People in Russia – Travel in the USSR
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Life Magazine – January 17, 1955

Isles of Romance in the South Seas
Eliot Elisofon
Life Magazine – January 24, 1955

The Magic of Color in Motion
Ernst Haas
Life Magazine – August 11, 1950

Spectacle of Spooks to Be Wary of on Halloween
George Silk
Life Magazine – October 31, 1960

Death of a Valley
Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones
Aperture – August 3, 1960

Mother’s Day Off
Grace Robertson
Picture Post – September 25, 1954

A Man of Mercy
W. Eugene Smith
Life Magazine – November 15, 1954

Irish Country People
Dorothea Lange
Life Magazine – March 21, 1955

Beauties of the Common Tool
Walker Evans
Fortune Magazine – July 1955

Pittsburgh
W Eugene Smith
Popular Photography – September 9, 1959

Drama beneath a City Window
W. Eugene Smith
Life Magazine – March 10, 1958

In a Dutiful Family Trials with Mother
Cornell Capa
Life Magazine – July 13, 1959

The Spirit and Frenzy of Olympian Efforts
George Silk
Life Magazine – July 18, 1960

The Era of Sentiment and Splendor
Clarence John Laughlin
Life Magazine – October 24, 1960

Seeing Ourselves as an American Sees Us
Bruce Davidson
The Queen – August 27, 1951

In Tiny Devices, a Revolution
Fritz Goro
Life Magazine – March 10, 1961

The Last of the Barnstormers
Constantine Manos
Esquire – October 1961

The Last Sitting
Bert Stern
Vogue – September, 1962
Eros – Autumn, 1962
Vogue – September, 1982

The Lash of Success
Grey Villet
Life Magazine – November 16, 1962

We Are Animals in a World No One Knows
Bill Eppridge
Life Magazine – February 26, 1965

The Shakers
John Loengard
Life Magazine – March 17, 1967

A Family of His Own
Leonard McCombe
Life Magazine – December 17, 1971

Death-Flow from a Pipe
W. Eugene Smith and Aileen Smith
Life Magazine – June 2, 1972

The Family
Richard Avedon
Rolling Stones – October 21, 1976

Au lieu…
Rene Burri
Paris-Match – January 11, 1964

“The face of war”
Robert Freson
The Sunday Times Magazine – February 23, 1964

Boring from below
George Silk
Life Magazine – May 24, 1963

Spring comes to England
Ernst Haas
Look Magazine – May 21, 1963

‘X’ = The French Power Elite
Sabine Weiss
Esquire – July, 1961

Irrigated crop land
Margaret Bourke-White
Life Magazine – January 3, 1955

One Way
Phillip Harrington
Look Magazine – March 26, 1963

Je vois! dit l’enfant
Calogero Cascio
Paris Match – November 28, 1961

Russian Orthodoxy
Cornell Capa
Life Magazine – September 11, 1959

Spectacles
Arnold Newman
HOLIDAY – July, 1963

Bullfight
Ernst Haas
Life Magazine – July 29, 1957

Penn’s Japan
Irving Penn
Vogue – August 15, 1961

Freedom’s Fearful Foe: Poverty
Gordon Parks
Life Magazine – June 16, 1961

A new American record in New York: Misery
Henri Ballot
O Cruzeiro – October 7, 1961

It’s hard to keep cool on 100th Street
Bruce Davidson
The Sunday Times Magazine – April 21, 1968

Splendor of a Forgotten Tribe
Leni Riefenstahl
The Sunday Times Magazine

The President and His Son
Alan Stanley Tretick
Look Magazine – December 3, 1963

Heroic Vietnam
Roberto Salas
Cuba Magazine – June 1967

Vietnam: Old Glory, Young Blood
Don McCullin
Sunday Times Magazine – March 24, 1968

Blind Boys Play
Charles Harbutt
Jubilee – September, 1962

Times Square
Various photographers
The New York Times Magazine – May 18, 1980

The Kuwaiti Inferno
Sebastião Salgado
The New York Times Magazine – June 9, 1991

Empire of the Stage
Lord Snowdon
Vanity Fair – November 1995

‘S-21’
Nhem Ein et al
Reportage – April 1995

Shooting Past 80
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Vanity Fair – January, 2001
(Photography Director: Susan White)

Being 13
Various photographers
The New York Times Magazine – 1998

Dream House
Gregory Crewdson
The New York Times Magazine – November 10, 2002

Obama’s People
Nadav Kander
The New York Times Magazine – January 18, 2009


Yankee Papa 13
Larry Burrows
Life Magazine – April 16, 1965

James Karales
The Selma Montgomery March
Look Magazine – May 18, 1965

Sonny Liston vs Cassius Clay
Various Photographers
Sports Illustrated – June 7, 1965

Prenativity
Fritz Goro
Life Magazine –September 10, 1965

Valparaiso
Sergio Larrain
Du Magazine – February 1966

Creation
Lennart Nilsson
Life Magazine – April 30, 1965
Paris-Match – February 12, 1966

Arctic Soldiers
Mikhail Savin
Ogoniok – March 21, 1967

Biafra: La Guerre Ignoree
Floris De Bonneville & Gilles Caron
Paris-Match – May 4, 1968

Insurrection du Quartier Latin
Various Photographers
Paris Match – May 18, 1968

Saigon
Philip Jones Griffiths
Telegraph – August 2, 1968

View From the Moon
Bill Anders
Life Magazine – January 20, 1969

Untitled
Daido Moriyama
Provoke – August 1969

One Week’s Dead
Life Magazine – June 27, 1969

On The Moon
Neil Armstrong & Edwin Aldrin
Life Magazine – August 8, 1969

My Lai
Ron Haeberle
Life Magazine – December 5, 1969

Siege Of Derry
Don Mccullin
The Sunday Times Magazine – December 19, 1971

Munich Massacre
Various Photographers
Life Magazine – September 15, 1972
Paris Match – September 16, 1972

Bangkok
Hiroji Kubota
Sekai – September 1976

Nicaragua
Susan Meiselas
The New York Times Magazine – July 30, 1978

Café Lehmitz
Anders Petersen
Stern – November 1979

Berlin
Helmut Newton
Vogue – November 1979

Mafia in Sicily
Battaglia & Zecchin
L’Ora – January 7, 1980
The New York Times Magazine

Solidarity
Alain Bizos
Actuel – October 1980

Dorrie’s Journey
Eugene Richards
American Photographer – June 1981

Falkland Road
Mary Ellen Mark
Stern – September 9, 1981

New York Diary
Raymond Depardon
Liberation – July 8,9,27, August 8, 1981

Soccos Massacre
Vera Lentz
Konkret – March 3, 1984

Bhopal
Raghu Rai
India Today – December 31, 1984

Sahel
Sebastião Salgado
Liberation – January 24, April 16, August 21, 1985

Iran Iraq War
Reza & Mandocher Deghati
Liberation – February 14, 1985

Serra Pelada
Sebastião Salgado
The Sunday Times Magazine – May 24, 1987
The New York Times Magazine

Domestic Violence
Donna Ferrato
The Philadelphia Inquirer – July 26, 1987

Stammheim 7th Floor
Bernd Hoff
Tempo – October 1987

AIDS In the USA
Alon Reininger
Life Magazine – January 1988

Gypsies
Lialia Kuznetsova
Ogoniok – July 30, 1988

Honey Hunters of Nepal
Eric Valli
National Geographic – November 1989

Tiananmen Square
Patrick Zachmann
Sette – June 1989

Fall Of The Berlin Wall
Various Photographers
Paris Match – November 23, 1989

Ceausescu’s Legacy
Mike Abrahams
The Independent Magazine – March 3, 1990

Pollution In East Europe
Antonin Kratochvil
The New York Times Magazine – April 29, 1990

Killing The Chickens
Photographer(s) Unknown
The Independent Magazine – June 2, 1990

Gulf War
Various Photographers
Newsweek – March 11, 1991

Eruption of Mt Pinatubo
Philippe Bourseiller
Daily Telegraph – June 15, 1991

The Soviet Mafia
Hans-Jürgen Burkard
Stern – November 28, 1991

Russian Women’s Prison
Jane Evelyn Atwood
The Independent Magazine – January 25, 1992

Burma
Daniel Schwartz
Du Magazine – November 1992

Afghanistan
Steve McCurry
National Geographic – October 1993

Zimbabwe Aids Ward
Gideon Mendel
The Independent Magazine – November 27, 1993

New England
Alfred Seiland
Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin – December 30, 1993

Fes
Bruno Barbey
Du Magazine – July/August 1994

Chechnya
Paul Lowe
The Independent Magazine – January 14, 1995

Chechnya
Stanley Greene
The New York Times Magazine – February 26, 1996

War
Various Photographers
Colors – March 1996

War In Europe
James Nachtwey
El Mundo – March 4, 1996

Sun Kitsch
Martin Parr
W Magazine – January 1997

The Thatcher Era
Roger Hutchings
L’Express – May 7, 1997

Mosh
Elaine Constantine
Face – October 1997

Mt Pandemonium
Trent Parke
The Australian Magazine – September 18-19, 1999

Earth From Above
Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Geo – October 1999

Rio
Various Photographers
Big Magazine – 1999

Megatransect
Michael Nichols
National Geographic – October 2000

Lukole Refugee Camp
Various Photographers
Colors – December 2000

Haiti Ritual
Cristina Garcia Rodero
La Vanguardia – June 17, 2001

Immigration In Europe
Ad Van Denderen
Geo – October 2001

One Week In September
Jonas Karlsson
Vanity Fair – November 2001

Untouchables
William Albert Allard
National Geographic – June 2001

This Is My World
Various Photographers
Gazeta Wyborcza – November 3, 2002

Afghanistan
Simon Norfolk
El Pais – September 8, 2002

Afghanistan
Rinko Kawauchi
Foil –January 30, 2003

The Hmong
Philip Blenkinsop
Time Magazine Asia – May 5, 2003

Ramallah Fashion
Nadia Benchallal
Vogue Hommes – Autumn Winter 2003/4

Israel/Palestine
Various Photographers
Days Japan – May 2004

Feet Stories
Myrzik & Jarisch
Süddeutsche Zeitung –May 14, 2004

Darfur
James Nachtwey
Time Magazine – October 4, 2004

Democracy
Richard Avedon
New Yorker – November 1, 2004

Tsunami
Paris Match – January 12, 2005