The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Photos

To imagine the end of the world has been an ancient tradition, and photographers can draw inspiration from these stories. There are many myths and religious prophecies that reveal how things will come to an end. In Norse mythology there’s Ragnarok; in the Bible there are the events of Revelation; and in Islam there’s the Day of Resurrection, just to name a few.

Popular culture has added new apocalyptic versions to these accounts, such as the zombie apocalypse and alien invasions, and modern progress has inspired us to consider an annihilation of the world through environmental disasters or nuclear war.

nuclear apocalypse

1954 – eleven megaton by James Vaughan

Although they paint powerful pictures, the function of these stories isn’t necessarily to tell us how things will come to an end. Perhaps it’s better to view them as warnings and reminders that life as we know it should not be taken for granted. There are still things in the world that need to be changed, and art is one way to make us aware of this.

To show the artistic potential of visualizing the apocalypse through photography, we’ve selected pictures that match the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a part of the Christian apocalypse that speaks to the imagination while still having relevance to modern events.

four horsemen of the apocalypse

Copper Horse by JonoTakesPhotos

The Four Horsemen symbolize Pestilence (or Conquest), War, Famine and Death. They announce the Last Judgement and bring about the apocalypse in the world. In many ways the disasters they represent are already present in one form or other.

1. Pestilence
Ignoring the first horseman’s reference to conquest, the spread of disease is the first herald of the apocalypse. This catastrophe can slowly creep up on a population. For instance, in the sci-fi book The Perfect Pathogen, melting glaciers bring back an old disease. “But, like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, there was something no one saw until it was too late.”


Take me to the zombies by Esparta Palma


U.S. Army medical researchers take part in World Malaria Day 2010, Kisumu, Kenya by US Army Africa


Masks worn during experiments with Plague. Philippines, probably around 1912. by Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine

2. War
The second horseman symbolizes war, both between and within countries. War is particularly dreadful because it affects entire societies, both civilians and soldiers, and its consequences reach far into the future.


War by Moyan Brenn


Black American GIs, Park Street, Bristol – During World War II by Paul Townsend


Me, Iraqi war tank by Hamed Saber

3. Famine
Famine, the third horseman, is a brutal aspect of the apocalypse. In a powerful way, photography shows how torturous and dehumanizing starvation is. The cases of famine today are especially shocking when considering our global food surplus. Of course, this also means that the problem of famine can be overcome.


During The Famine Young Child Dying In The Gutter, China (1946) by Geroge Silk [Restored by ralph repo]




A malnourished child in an MSF treatment tent in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia by UK Department for International Development

4. Death
The last horseman signals the inevitable victory of Death. Death isn’t necessarily as terrible as the other three horsemen. In fact, it may be a merciful part of the apocalypse: “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity” (William Penn).


Everything corrodes. Everything dies. by Eddy Van 3000


death in Paris by hans van den berg


(death) by Kevin Dooley

Finally, most apocalyptic stories don’t end with desolation; there’s often a glimmer of hope. To keep your spirits up, it can help to focus on this hope as well. Some organizations fighting against current apocalyptic problems are the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Warchild and Oxfam.

hope apocalpyse

desolation and salvation by Nathan Siemers

hope rainbow apocalypse

Rainbow Guard by Bùi Linh Ngân

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2 Comments on "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Photos"

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Jay Long

Yeah, that’s really good stuff. Not only are the images awesome, but the narrative is intriguing and inspirational. Very nice piece.

Martha Martin

I know that you have got it, if no one else has it is coming a lot
worse then what you have shown to us all..

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