In the twentieth century, the idea of a widely popular public figure worthy of media attention came to life. At the same time, the evolution of photography went from bulky cameras to digital and phone cameras. These ten personalities left an ever-lasting trace in the public world, and photographs of them live forever to keep their public legacy alive.
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II was the pope from 1978 to 2005. This was also the period of the rise of the mass media, meaning that John Paul II was not only famous among the members of the Catholic church but was regarded as one of the most important public figures in the world. The pope traditionally holds mass and other public speaking events ("Urbi et orbi") from the famous balcony at St. Peter's Cathedral in Vatican City. So, each time John Paul II. took the balcony to speak, he was seen and photographed by thousands of people gathered on the square in front of the cathedral.
Probably one of the most popular U.S. presidents of all time, Barack Obama was not only the American president but also a beloved celebrity. Even though he was always shielded with Security Service detail, Barack Obama stepped in front of the cameras numerous times during the two terms of his presidency. It is also important to mention that his two terms happened as the Internet use was on the massive rise worldwide, diversifying the way we consume content, involving photographs as well.
The photograph of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate with her white dress revealing her famous legs is probably one of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century. It is often said that Monroe was the first "sex symbol" as she was adored both by men and women. Photographers were trying to catch every glimpse of her, especially when her private life came into the public eye. Because of the focus of the media on her looks and her private troubles, Monroe's photographs were rarely associated with her acting achievements. Because of that, she had to struggle to establish herself as an actress throughout her career.
Britney Spears is often credited for the explosion of the paparazzi culture of the twenty-first century. In 2007 and 2008, the pop singer was going through a personal crisis that attracted incredible media attention. Spears was spending a lot of her time around LA while being followed by swarms of photographers who were on the lookout, in case she did anything news-worthy. And she did – in February 2007 she shaved her head. Paparazzi made photographs of her holding the hair clipper through the blindfolds in the salon's windows. From that point on, photo agencies went into a bidding war over candid photographs of Spears.
Today, almost everybody knows about the life and career of Michael Jackson. His career exploded in the 1980s to heights no one has been able to replicate ever since. But in the 1990s and 2000s, he became the regular tabloid topic that attracted swarms of paparazzi following his every move. From his romantic relationships, plastic surgeries to the serious allegations of child molesting – Jackson's private antics made him the source of ridicule, attracting photographers on the daily basis.
Muhammad Ali was not actually photographed that many times. But his photographs have been heavily reproduced in the media over the years. Particularly famous is the photo of Ali that was featured on the 1968 cover of Esquire. The photo portrays Ali in agony, bleeding from six wounds, alluding to Ali as the nation's enemy after he refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Previous to that, Ali's photographs made during his fights made him an example of success for African Americans.
Cristiano Ronaldo might not be that famous in the U.S., but he has been one of the best and most prominent professional football players in the last decade. His success in football made him a widely recognized name and secured his numerous endorsement deals – from soft drinks and clothing brands to electronics and video games. Ronaldo's face is everywhere in the ad world. When you add the tabloid interest for his private life, photographs of Ronaldo have been inescapable for a long time now.
As is the case with Muhammad Ali, it is hard to compare the times Elvis Presley has been photographed to any of the public figures present in contemporary times of digital photography. Still, the number his photographs have been used and reproduced in the media is countless. Presley's reputation of the "King of Rock and Roll" came from the period from 1954 to 1958 when his live performances caused a frenzy among fans and the revolution in popular music. Along with the famous dancing moves and his flashy outfits, photographs of Presley have been around for decades now, affirming him as a musical icon of the twentieth century.
When we think of the most photographed personalities, we usually think of public figures in the U.S. and Europe. But it is essential to include Asia as well. TVXQ is the acronym for Tong Vfang Xien Qi, the South-Korean pop duo, which emerged on the K-pop scene in 2003. It is not until we see the official chart records that the popularity of K-pop acts can be grasped: TVXQ has sold more than 10 million records in South Korea and Japan. Since 2003, they have been established as the "Kings of K-pop," and thanks to numerous endorsements, they have been a constant presence in the Asian media.
Diana, Princess of Wales, was the British princess from 1981 to 1996. It is highly unlikely that anyone in the public world has reached that level of attention from photographers as she did. Since Diana was the youngest member of the British Royal Family (she was Prince Charles' first wife) and defied the old royal rules, she was beloved worldwide. The attention from the press grew even higher once she divorced Prince Charles and started dating Dodi Fayed, the son of billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed. The media attention cost Diana her life. She died in 1997 in a car crash in the tunnel in Paris while she and Dodi were chased by paparazzi cars.