38 Gut-Wrenching Photos That Will Leave You Speechless

Compiled from a thread over at AskReddit. I included every photo I could find in the public domain or with a creative commons license while respecting the copyright of the others by linking to them in the text rather than posting them here.
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

1. Jonestown

The very concept of cults has always kind of scared me. For example: Charles Manson, David Koresh, and especially Jim Jones. Because of that, this image is one of the single most horrifying things that I have ever seen. A quote that explains how I feel about almost all of the photos in this thread:

“If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips out your heart, that’s a good picture” -Eddie Adams (a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist)

2. A kid standing up to his violent father


In 1987, Ferrato rode along with the Minneapolis police as they responded to 911 calls. A boy named Diamond made a call saying that his father was physically attacking his mother. He was the first child Ferrato had seen stand up for his mother at a moment when most children would be afraid. The image of his bravery not only left an impression on Ferrato and the police, but was hailed as one of the most influential photographs in the world by Life Magazine. Twenty years later, Ferrato searched for and found Diamond. His parents are still together and maintain a healthy relationship with their son.

3. The first untethered space walk


Bruce McCandless making the first untethered spacewalk.

4. “Earthrise”


Taken by astronaut Bill Anders on Apollo 8.

5. The Ruins of Dresden

Deutsche Fotothek‎
Deutsche Fotothek‎

The ruins of Dresden. It’s amazing to think this city was one of many that was absolutely destroyed. The grandiose scale that was WWII is astonishing and terrifying.

Mount St. Helens, from 7 miles away

Robert Landsburg was about 7 miles from Mt St Helens when it erupted in 1980. He had only enough time to take a few photos before realising he was doomed. In an effort to protect his pictures his final act was to rewind the film in his camera, pack it in his bag and lay down on top of it before the fatal ash cloud reached him. These are the two most intact pictures of the three shots he had time to take, (credit to u/TheSpericalMiracle who posted these to r/Historyporn a month ago. http://i.imgur.com/8HzrTwz.jpg

8. The first wheelie


On a lighter note, this is believed to the oldest documented wheelie. Some soldiers coming home in 1936.
And it makes me happy to no end.

9. Moments before execution

Two seconds before execution

Polish resistance members, Warsaw Uprising 1944.

Look at their faces – each of them reacts differently to the inevitable.

10. East German guard defecting to West Germany

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Conrad Schumann’s defection to West Berlin He’s jumping the wire between west and east berlin in 1961, just as the Berlin Wall is being built.

More details from Wikipedia:

On 15 August 1961, the 19-year-old Schumann was sent to the corner of Ruppiner Straße and Bernauer Straße to guard the Berlin Wall on its third day of construction. At that time, the wall was only a low barbed wire fence. From the other side, West Germans shouted to him, “Komm’ rüber!” (“Come over!”), and a police car pulled up to wait for him. Schumann jumped over the barbed wire fence and was promptly driven away from the scene by the West Berlin police. West German photographer Peter Leibing photographed Schumann’s escape. His picture has since become an iconic image of the Cold War era and featured at the beginning of the 1982 Disney film Night Crossing. The scene, including Schumann’s preparations, has also been filmed on 16-mm film from the same perspective.

11. Boy falling from a commercial airplane

14-year-old boy fell from wheel-well of japan airline as it took off from sydney in 1970.

12. Boy jumping between rocks

Public Domain
Public Domain

The image used as proof that advanced shutter technology worked.

I saw this during a random trip to the Wisconsin Dells. Taken in 1886, the photographer had his son jump between two rock formations to prove his new photography invention actually worked.

I’m speechless when I see it now and I can’t even imagine how I would feel if this was the first moving image I had ever seen.

13. Molotov hits a police officer

http://imgur.com/gallery/RuyWK Police officer hit by Molotov Cocktail during Greek riots.

14. Wedding rings from Holocaust victims

US Army
US Army

Thousands of wedding rings confiscated from those in Concentration Camps.

15. Lynching of Jesse Washington (NSFL)

The Lynching of Jesse Washington in my home town.

Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_of_Jesse_Washington

16. Human kindness

Protestors consoling weeping riot guard.

17. The most gruesome sports injury (NSFL)

As a sports fan in general, Clint Malarchuk’s slashed throat still makes me gasp every time I see it.

More details from Wikipedia:

During a game on March 22, 1989, between the visiting St. Louis Blues and Malarchuk’s Buffalo Sabres, Steve Tuttle of the Blues and Uwe Krupp of the Sabres became entangled while chasing the puck and crashed hard into the Buffalo goal, taking Malarchuk down with them. As Tuttle and Krupp came down on him, Tuttle’s skate blade hit Malarchuk’s neck and severed his carotid artery.

With blood spurting from Malarchuk’s throat onto the ice, he was able to leave the ice on his own feet with the assistance of his team’s athletic trainer, Jim Pizzutelli. Many spectators were physically sickened by the sight. There were reports that eleven fans fainted, two more suffered heart attacks and three players vomited on the ice. Local television cameras covering the game cut away from the sight of Malarchuk bleeding after noticing what had happened, and Sabres announcers Ted Darling and Mike Robitaille were audibly shaken. At the production room of the national cable sports highlight show, a producer scrolled his tape back to show the event to two other producers, who both started screaming.

Malarchuk, meanwhile, believed he was going to die. “All I wanted to do was get off the ice”, said Malarchuk. “My mother was watching the game on TV, and I didn’t want her to see me die.” Aware that his mother had been watching the game on TV, he had an equipment manager call and tell her he loved her. Then he asked for a priest.

Malarchuk’s life was saved due to quick action by the team’s athletic trainer, Jim Pizzutelli, a former Army medic who served in Vietnam. He reached into Malarchuk’s neck and pinched off the blood vessel, not letting go until doctors arrived to begin stabilizing the wound. The team doctor then applied extreme pressure by kneeling on his collarbone — a procedure designed to produce a low breathing rate and low metabolic state, which is preferable to exsanguination. Previous reports have suggested doctors worked for hours to save Malarchuk’s life, however this is an overestimate. He was conscious and talking on the way to the hospital. (He asked paramedics if they could bring him back in time for the third period.). The game resumed when league personnel received word that the player was in stable condition.

18. Roosevelt’s haunting journal entry

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Journal entry president Theodore Roosevelt recorded on February 14, 1884, the day his wife, Eleanor, and mother, Martha died.

19. Wilbur Wright, watching his brother make history

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

After winning the coin toss but crashing the plane on his attempt, Wilbur Wright looks on as his brother Orville makes history.

I love the body language that Wilbur has as he watches his brother make the first heavier-than air, powered, manned flight (very specific, yes, but also pretty historic). You can see the footprints he left in the sand as he ran along, holding the wing of the glider up during its takeoff run.

20. A horrifying fall

Woman and child falling from a fire escape http://i.imgur.com/65da4bJ.jpg

21. A man finds his best friend

The man who found his dog after digging for 30 hours in the Washington Tornado.

22. Space selfie


Selfie in space.

23. Very, very, very NSFL

After the earthquake in Haiti, NSFL

Edit: I tend to lurk, but when I saw this askreddit, I instantly knew that I had to post this. It’s been burned in my memory since I first saw it. At first response, I still have no words, but, as I force myself to think about the photograph, I can pull together some thoughts: first, that there is horrible tragedy in this world, and there are people who have dealt with it in such a more real and direct way than I may ever have to. Next, (cliche, perhaps) that the world is not a fair place, and I am lucky to have made it as far and with such relative luxury as I have, as the children in the picture never got the chance to. And third, that I am thankful, in a morbid way, for the journalists who go to areas and crises such as this. We hear on the news about the numbers of the dead, and we see helicopter footage of flattened towns, but until someone has gone into the thick of it, it’s often impossible for us to get a feeling for the true enormity of the situation and connect to it. Remember that, while we see one instant of one child’s body in the air, the photographer was there for the whole throw. And the one before it. And the one before that. And, quite likely, many more before and after and many other horrific situations that we can scarcely imagine. And although the photographer’s plight is self-inflicted, were it not for his or her work, we wouldn’t be able to connect to this horrible tragedy hundreds of miles away, and, if that connection leads to even a modest amount of donations or one volunteer worker that travels to help those in need, then that photographer has done a service to humanity at large.

24. Apollo 11’s Plan B

The text of the speech Nixon planned on giving to the American people if the crew of Apollo 11 were stranded on the moon.

It’s chilling to think of the collective sorrows of an entire planet going up at that news.

25. “We are a community of 240 million human beings”

The pictures that were put on the voyager spacecraft. If the human race manages to kill itself, this is the only thing other life in the universe will know about us. This would be the imprint we leave on the entire universe”

26. Bravery

Alex Honnold resting on a narrow ledge, free soloing the 2,000 foot tall northwest face of half dome in Yosemite.

27. “Most people don’t know what war looks like”


This was poster earlier this year with the title “Most people don’t know what war looks like. We are too separated. This is a brief glimpse.”

28. The deepest image of the universe, ever


The Hubble Extreme Deep Field is a picture taken by NASA over several weeks. They aimed the Hubble Telescope at a completely black spot in the night sky. A tiny, tiny area that is only a thousandth of the night sky, where they can’t detect any stars. No light comes from that patch of night sky. There are no stars there.

And then they waited weeks for the telescope to collect all the light that it could, and it returned that image.

That is an image of a fraction of the night sky, a tiny, tiny portion, where there is already no visible light, and it is literally teeming with far-off galaxies.

Each speck of light, each pixel in that picture that isn’t black is another galaxy, just like our Milky way.

So think about that for a minute. That view, except multiplies by literally thousands, and that is the scope of the universe close to us.
Or even just imagine that this picture was taken by an alien race in a galaxy far away, and one of those specks in the distance is the Milky Way. And in the Milky Way are a hundred billion stars. And of those stars we are just a single planet orbiting a regular ol’ samey star.

The universe is mind-numbingly huge and we are mind-numbingly small.

29. The assassination of the photographer

This picture was taken by Reynaldo Dagsa, a Filipino politician. That man behind his family is his assassin. This was taken seconds before he was shot.

30. Grief

The photo of the kid who just found out his brother was shot and killed. Breaks me every time


31. Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin


It is a pic of Jesse Owens accepting a gold medal in 1936 Nazi Germany. Apparently, Hitler walked out of the stadium after his “superior Aryan” runners lost to an “inferior” black person. I just love this picture.

32. Her last photo

Robert Ben Rhoades was a truck driver/serial killer that liked to pick up hitchhikers and torture them for a while in his truck before killing them. One of his victims was a 14 year old runaway from Texas named Regina Walters. Walters’ remains were found in an abandoned barn in Illinois.

However, her disappearance wasn’t connected to Rhoades until after Rhoades was arrested for abducting another woman. When police searched Rhoades’ home they found this picture. It is of Regina Walters in the barn where her body would later be found, likely taken moments before she was murdered.

33. The third one is where I lost it

Turkish official teasing starved Armenian children by showing bread during the Armenian Genocide, 1915 [1455×1080]

edit: Here are some more:

A lone man refusing to do the “Sieg Heil” salute at the launching of the Horst Wessell in Nazi Germany, 1936. [1195×772]

Jewish refugees, approaching allied soldiers, become aware that they have just been liberated, April, 1945 [668×800]

Joseph Goebbels smiling before learning that Alfred Eisenstaedt, the photographer, was jewish, 1933 [983×1280]

A candid Joseph Goebbels at the moment he realized his photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, was a Jew, 1933 [860×1280]

German troops trying to rescue what looks like a French soldier from sinking in a mud hole. Northern France, 1914-1918. (621×400)

A mother shows a picture of her son to a returning POW. Vienna. 1947. Photograph by Ernst Haas. [433 x 550]

A U.S soldier offers his hand to a woman leaving a cave where she had hidden with her child during the battle between Japanese and American forces. [964×855]

Germany, 1945. Caption reads: “German prisoners of war held in an American camp watch a film about German concentration camps” [920 x 787]

Bill Clinton meets John F. Kennedy. (1960’s) [1578 x 1600]

1987 Tired prof. Religa monitoring the state of a patient after hearth transplant in Zabrze, Poland [639×426].

7 year old Jack Hoffman, a boy who is fighting brain cancer, scoring a touchdown during Nebraska’s spring game.


The execution of Polish Resistance fighters during WWII

The execution of German Gen. Anton Dostler

POW faces Heinrich Himmler

34. John Lennon

A musician and his murderer.

35. The last

The Last Jew in Vinnitsa. When I first went to the Holocaust Museum in DC I saw this picture and cried. Imagine looking into a grave (that you were probably forced to dig) and seeing the bodies of everyone you once knew, and knowing you were about to join them. The absolute worst part for me however is that the Nazi soldiers kept this one man alive to stage this photo to send back to their families at home as a keepsake. The heartlessness of some people…

This look of wonder

Starry Eyed Astronaut Makes me want to never stop observing/learning/being curious about the amazing universe!

38. The look on Neil Armstrong’s face after his moon walk

Neil Armstrong after his moonwalk.

The look and emotion on his face brings me to tears sometimes. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Erin Cossetta

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