Famous Photographs That Ruined People’s Lives

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In the early days of photography, a photograph was considered a pilfer-proof picture which could be used as sure evidence in favor or against a situation. Unlike a painter, a photographer was considered completely incapable of making any alterations or amendments. However, it did not take long before these things started in photography, first with an object to improve the appearance by minor touch-ups with good intentions. It followed later by malicious additions and distortions in order to blackmail and ruin the lives of people. With further advancements in technology, Webcams became effective tools in the hands of blackmailers. They used it to first develop a false friendship and then urged the target to expose himself or herself for sexual acts. The blackmailer would then use the initial exposures as seed for further exposures, threatening the target to make the early exposures public in case the demands were not fulfilled.

1. Monica’s Stained Dress Photograph

Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky’s scandal that culminated in the impeachment proceedings of former U.S. President Bill Clinton is a famous case which ruined his political career completely. It had also adversely impacted  his family life. Monica Lewinsky had submitted the blue, coat-like, semen-stained dress as evidence of her last sexual encounter with the President. She requested her dress back after its DNA testing confirmed Lewinsky’s claim. The dress was purchased for about $40 but was estimated to fetch more than $50, 000, after the publication of its photograph. Monica Lewinsky commented about her dress that was photographed ‘And at that point I noticed it, and I kind of thought, ‘oh this is dirty… it needs to get cleaned.’ And then I remembered that I had worn it the last time I saw the President. I believe it was at that point that I thought to myself, ‘Oh, no.”  A partner of Gotta, Schagrin rated the dress in the class of Marilyn Monroe’s dress which she wore at the time of singing at the birthday of the U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Monroe’s dress was auctioned for $1.26 million in 1999.

2. Photo of Cindy Crawford’s Daughter, Kaia

 Kaia Jordan
Cindy Crawford and her daughter, Kaia

Edis Kayalar, a German model, informed the famous model, Cindy Crawford, that he was in possession of a sexy photograph of her seven-year-old daughter. According to him, the daughter was tied to a chair with a stopper in her mouth. He demanded money in exchange for the return of the photograph. Crawford’s husband, Rande Gerber, agreed and paid him $1,000 to get the photograph. The greedy blackmailer then demanded $500,000 for another picture. On being informed of the situation, the immigration officials deported Kayalar, whereupon the parents breathed a sigh of relief. The trouble was, however, not over as the blackmailer reverted and demanded a $100,000 wire transfer to his account in a German bank blaming Cindy Crawford for ruining his life. Edis Kayalar was ultimately convicted of extortion and put behind bars for two years.

3. Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales

Lady Diana had been one of the most beloved persons in the world with and without the title of ‘Princess.’  Nothing more than photographs had hurt her in her vibrant life. Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car accident on August 31, 1997, and media targeted the paparazzi as the causative factor. An investigation, however, concluded that it was due to the negligence on the part of the chauffeur. Diana’s photographs with her boyfriend Dodi, Dr. Hasnat, and her butler Paul Burrell had very often attracted the attention of  the media. Diana was one of the most photographed people, and although no photograph can be singled out as a cause for ruining her life, there are no two opinions in that she had been a victim of some malicious photography.

4. Neda Soltani

Neda Soltani
Neda Soltani, right, and Neda Agha-Soltan, left

Neda Agha-Soltan was one of the participants in the 2009 demonstrations in Iran. She was killed during these demonstrations, and the last moments of her life were filmed by an amateur photographer, and he published it on the Internet. The media detected an extraordinary resemblance to another person, Neda Soltani. The resemblance, both in names and facial features, caused a great mix-up to the extent that it almost ruined the life of the living Neda Soltani who was constrained to leave the country to get rid of all sorts of problems she was facing due to this mix-up.

5. Qutubuddin Ansari’s Photograph

Qutubuddin Ansari
Qutubuddin Ansari

Qutubuddin Ansari was a tailor who pled with the Indian police to save him from the mob during the Gujarat riots of 2002. Arko Dutta, a photographer, had captured the moment which is considered a defining moment of the riots. The photographs appeared as an embodiment of someone begging for life. The photograph, after being published, attracted the attention of people far and wide. The life of Qutubuddin was ruined, and he said that people recognized him and would taunt his daughter that they had seen her father crying and begging for life. It was almost impossible for him to revert to his routines, and ultimately he had to migrate to another city to escape the great nuisance.

6. The Other Vulture

Kevin Carter
The Other Vulture

Kevin Carter took a photograph in Sudan, and it won him the Pultizer Prize for Feature Photography. The Pultizer Prize-winning photograph showed an infant in a posture with its head touching the earth and positioned as if in the mother’s womb. Behind the infant, just a few yards away, was a huge vulture waiting to start its work. The St. Petersburg Times commented on the picture that ‘The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of him suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.’ Anyone who had seen the picture cannot think other than that the photographer was undoubtedly another vulture in the form of a human being present at the site.

7. Abu Ghraib Torture

Abu Ghraib Torture
Abu Ghraib Torture

Photographs of Abu Gharib Prison, also known as the Bagdad Correctional Facility, had attracted the attention of the world media in 2004. The torture by the U.S. Army, military police, and other U.S. governmental agencies included the physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of the prisoners. It is not only the blackmailing photographs that ruin people’s lives, but photographs from the sites like Ab Gharib are also equally disturbing. Whereas they may be controversial, in no way can a controversy justify the atrocities committed against the prisoners as shown in the photographs taken at Abu Gharib.

8. Karen Kazaryan

Karen Kazaryan
Karen Kazaryan

Karen Kazaryan, also known as Gary, resides in Glendale, California. He has hacked into the accounts of 350 women on social media sites including Facebook and Skype. He tried to find their nude pictures in order to blackmail them. He asked the women to strip before him on Skype and used the nude pictures later on to ask for repeats, threatening them with publishing the pictures on the Internet in cases of non-compliance. Police found more than 3,000 such pictures on his computer. He is facing 100 years of imprisonment on 15 counts of computer intrusion and 15 counts of identity theft.

9. Amanda Michelle Todd

Amanda Michelle Todd
Amanda Michelle Todd

Amanda Michelle Todd’s photograph carrying placard with the writing ‘I have no one, I need someone’ is a famous photograph about her life. During chatting, someone posed as a friend and asked her to flash for him whereupon she exposed herself. The man saved her photograph with bare breasts and demanded more similar pictures, but she refused to comply. The blackmailer traced her friends and sent her pictures to them, obviously to her immense embarrassment. She sought refuge in drugs and ultimately committed suicide.

10.  Gary Hart

Gary Hart
Donna Rice and Gary Hart

The USA Senator Gary Hart challenged the press to show any evidence of the infidelities he was constantly accused of during his campaign for President of the United States in 1987. In their hot pursuit, the press finally discovered him with the Miami model Donna Rice in his lap on the famous yacht Monkey Business. The yacht is famous because celebrities like Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor had been the guests on the 83-foot yacht. Gary Hart’s photo with Donna Rice was widely circulated and impacted his life to the extent that he ultimately lost his candidacy for the presidency.


Some photographs ruined marriages, professional or political careers, and at times culminated in people committing suicide to get rid of the perpetual threat and mental torture. Some photographs that were never intended for blackmailing, though, did ruin the lives of many people. An example is the beheading photograph of a kidnapped victim, which is enough to ruin the lives of  the victim’s family and many friends. In modern times, people are completely aware that a photograph can be modified for achieving some ulterior objectives; therefore, it is not considered as reliable evidence unless scrutinized thoroughly by professional experts.


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