We won’t even ask, “Where were YOU when this photo was taken...” because a lot of them are very old and that wouldn’t be polite. These photos have received millions of hits yet remain some of the rarest photos ever taken. Take a look and a journey back through history.
Construction of the Cristo redentor in Rio de Janeiro
At a League of Nations conference in 1933, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels remains seated while speaking to his interpreter. German-born Alfred Eisenstaedt, later one of the founding photographers of LIFE, recalled that Goebbels smiled at him until he learned that Eisenstaedt was Jewish — a moment Eisenstaedt captured in this photo. Suddenly, “He looked at me with hateful eyes and waited for me to wither,” the photographer recalled. “But I didn’t wither.” Not only didn’t he wither, he managed to take perhaps the most chilling portrait of pure evil to run in LIFE’s pages.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur (center) kept his famous promise, personally storming the beach at Lingayen Gulf on his way to retaking the Philippines in early 1945. (Accompanying him were, from left, Gen. Richard Sutherland and Col. Lloyd Lehrbas.) Tracking MacArthur’s progress was LIFE photographer Carl Mydans, who had been captured during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941 and had spent two years as a prisoner of war. Mydan’s picture has become one of the most famous — and unabashedly triumphant — images of the war.
At the end of his shoot with artist Salvador Dali — a session that took six hours and 28 throws (of water, a chair, and three cats), “My assistants and I were wet, dirty and near complete exhaustion,” photographer Philippe Halsman reported. The resulting image, with a leaping Dali in midair amid the madness, is a portrait as kinetic and surreal as artist’s own work.
Backstage at the Academy Awards, two past Best Actress winners, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, await their turns to present. That Allan Grant could catch both supremely elegant, stylish icons together in a moment may have been a stroke of luck (Hepburn and Kelly never did work together, and very soon after this photo was taken the latter left Hollywood to become Monaco’s princess). But Grant’s use of composition and lighting — with the two women parallel and glowing in profile — is nothing short of masterful.
For this 1949 portrait of Pablo Picasso in his studio in the south of France, the artist was inspired by Gjon Mili’s previous photos of ice skaters spinning through the air with small lights attached to their skates. Mili left the shutters of his cameras open as Picasso made ephemeral drawings in the air of a darkened room. This one was of one of a centaur. Mili caught the artist himself by using a 1/10,000th-second strobe light. This photo ranks among LIFE’s best partly because it actually captures the moment of creation by a genius.