When the History Channel recently unveiled its assertion that Amelia Earhart survived her supposedly fatal final flight, the alleged proof (which will be detailed in the network's July 9 documentary Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence) came in the form of a grainy black-and-white photo: a photo of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on the Marshall Islands after their disappearance. This photo proves that the pair was captured by the Japanese — or at least, that's what the documentary claims.
Pictures can be used for a lot of different purposes. They can be used as evidence, as the History Channel is attempting; they can be used to preserve memories in family photo albums; they can destroy someone's career or lift someone to fame. But they can also be used to capture and memorialize a person's legacy. And, in the case of Amelia Earhart, the pioneering pilot shouldn't be remembered for one controversial picture — that may or may not be of her — which will only serve to fuel the morbid fascination over her disappearance.
More important than the History Channel's alleged evidence of the aviator's fate are the plethora of photos taken of Earhart before the crash; images that show the dynamic, ambitious, and very human person she was.
1. Ready For Her Close-Up
While most pictures of Earhart feature the aviator in her trademark dark leather jacket and windswept hair, she showed a different, softer side of herself in this headshot.
2. First In Flight
In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Her passion clearly belonged in the sky, so it's appropriate that she's more often seen in photos posing next to aircraft than next to other people.
3. Putting Her Feet Up
It's always fascinating to see Earhart caught in more casual moments, like this apparently candid shot of the pilot slouching against a wall while taking a well-earned break.
4. Lift The Veil
It's so rare to see pictures of Earhart out of her aviator's outfit — even that aforementioned headshot simply has her in a more glamorous version of the clothes people are used to seeing her in — that seeing a young Earhart in the everyday attire of the era is mildly shocking. (The link to Earhart's letters is also a nice reminder that she was an actual human being with a mother, a childhood, and a past.)
5. Take A Hike
According to the Purdue University Archives, from which this photo hails, this photo captures Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, along with a third man, while their plane was undergoing maintenance on the island of Java. And what did they do while they waited? Like a couple of normal tourists, they took a hike to see a nearby volcano.
6. Brighter Than The Sun
This is likely how more people imagine Earhart in their minds' eye; but even here, her noticeable squint into the sun behind the camera instantly makes the image even more relatable.
7. Boss Lady
No big deal, just Earhart confidently strutting her stuff in front of a giant, technologically complex machine that she'll soon pilot through the air with the greatest of ease.
8. No Room For Doubt
Can you imagine sitting in that cramped compartment for the entire duration of a flight around the Earth's equator (much less knowing what to do with all those knobs and buttons and levers?) Not only could Earhart imagine such a scenario… she actively sought it out and made it her life's mission.
9. Climb Aboard
Through her pioneering efforts, Earhart opened doors for women all around the world, and invited them to dream big — and achieve even bigger — for decades to follow.
10. Up, Up & Away
That's the face of someone who has seen her destiny and is determined to achieve it. If only we were all so lucky to have such a clear vision of our path forward… even if you can never know for sure what's waiting on the horizon.
11. Say Cheese
As interest in Earhart's disappearance undergoes a resurgence thanks to the History Channel, never lose sight of the fact that there was a living, breathing person behind the myth — someone, as these pictures prove, who was full of joy, courage, and ambition.
No matter what is uncovered about Earhart's ultimate fate, nothing will change the woman she was or the achievements she made.