There are many books around about the power of branding or the most iconic images from history. This book piqued my fancy, as it appeared to work across so many sources: painting, photography, advertising, religion and science. But I’m afraid to say that was also its downfall, as the curation of these images into a shortlist of eleven did not seem to gel together in any meaningful way. I think we are now so saturated with images that it felt counterproductive to try to limit a ‘best of’ list to eleven and I thought more about what had been excluded, rather than included. Kemp defines the most iconic images as:
- Jesus Christ
- The cross
- The heart
- The lion
- Leonardo da Vinci’s painting: Portrait of Lisa Gherardini: the ‘Mona Lisa’, 1503-c.1516
- Che Guevara
- Nick Ut’s photograph: Villagers Fleeing Along Route 1, 1972
- The American flag
- The Coca Cola bottle
- The DNA double helix
Okay, there’s some here I agree with, but others that seem totally misplaced. I know that I come from a western viewpoint, and this list would change according who was defining it, but that acknowledgement would actually have made it more interesting. I would have rather read a book that had the most iconic images defined by nationality or age or gender or any number of delineations. Yes, I would have picked a couple of the same ones as Kemp, but it would have been a very different list.
I did enjoy some of the chapters that discussed how an original source becomes iconic – the Che Guevara photograph, for instance – but others left me quite unmoved. One point of amusement was that with all of these icons, the only one requiring a disclaimer in the introduction was Coke:
This book has not been approved by or endorsed by The Coca-Cola Company or any other company, and any views expressed in it are those of the author and not The Coca-Cola Company or any other company. COCA-COLA, COKE and the COCA-COLA bottle are trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company.
I guess the church never got around to trademarking Jesus.