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'The Power of Photography: National Geographic 125 Years'

Anna Escher |
December 7, 2013 | 4:15 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

On a patterned blanket, 40-year-old Afghani man Faiz sits next to Ghulam, his 11-year-old bride. The pink of Ghulam’s headscarf pops against the green of her dress, and the curtains behind her, that are red and embroidered with mustard-yellow flowers. Faiz’s beard is graying and his eyes pierce the camera lens with a concerned stare. His arms are crossed and one of his bare feet is visible in the shot. Ghulam’s eyes dart horizontally to her husband, her lips a straight line. The photo ran in 2011 with a story called, “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides.”

 Joel Sartore/National Geographic
Joel Sartore/National Geographic

This moment of confusion, fear, and hesitance was captured by photographer Stephanie Sinclair for National Geographic magazine in 2005. A reprint of it is pictured in “The Power of Photography: National Geographic 125 Years” exhibit now on display at the Annenberg Space for Photography. Photos like Sinclair’s tell stories that have changed the way we see the world – from Wes C. Skiles’ underwater panorama, Brian Skerry’s marine wildlife, Joel Sartore’s work of endangered species photography and Lynsey Addario’s photo coverage of the Arab Spring. 

Sarah Leen, photo editor for National Geographic magazine looked through millions of images and selected 501 of the best photos to be showcased in this retrospective photography exhibit that has been made to celebrate the 125th anniversary of National Geographic. 

Within the exhibit are six video walls that switch off between text and photo essays, and a short documentary about some of National Geographic photographer’s experiences as photojournalists working all over the world in conflict areas. But what makes this collection particularly remarkable are the stories behind the images. The gallery creates a sense of mystery and desire to know more about where each picture was taken, and the story behind it. If anything, the art sparks more curiosity – as most are only labeled with the photographer and year taken. 

The influence of photography becomes evident. A photo of a girl with black hair, almond eyes and full lips sits next to a similarly shot photo of a younger boy with watery blue eyes and blonde pin curls. They are both biracial children, American-born. Martin Schoeller’s goal was to photograph children of mixed races with the same detail and camera settings. Lighting, focus, placement and depth of field are all congruent in this series. This democratization of the subject highlights the dissimilarities of two faces, while showing the complexity and intimacy of the people he photographs.

This exhibit explains how stories can be told through photos. People respond to moments, to colors, to different settings they might not normally be exposed to. After seeing National Geographic’s photos of young men caked in yellow dirt, ebony against gold, from mining in Eastern Congo, laws were passed to require companies to be transparent about whether or not they were selling conflict minerals. Early photography of National Park landscapes helped influence people to preserve the natural beauty of the earth. Photography becomes not only representative of the lived human experience, but politically influential enough to change minds – to change behavior. 

“I fall in love with almost every person I photograph. I want to hear their stories. I want to get close. This is personal for me,” reads a quote from Stephanie Sinclair, the same woman who shot Faiz and Ghulam. 

The picture of Faiz and Ghulam is just one of the many photos at this exhibit that speaks volumes about our world, and helps to connect people through something we collectively share: the ability to see. 

"The Power of Photography: National Geographic 125 Years" is on exhibit now through April 2014. For more information click here.

Reach Staff Reporter Anna Escher by email



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