This year, National Geographic celebrates 125 years of awe-inspiring stories and magnificent photos that showcase everything from the natural beauty of wildlife at its primal to the lives of women enjoying the riptides of the Jersey Shore to the private world of arranged child marriages. Breathtaking, evocative, and cringe-worthy, many of the photos that have bridged the gap between our living rooms and worlds around us have been brought to us by women. While some say that it does not matter who is on the other side of the lens, these women employ a unique sensitivity to the human spirit that comes through their photos.
The current exhibits lining the first floor of the National Geographic Museum on 17th and M St NW in DC are a celebration of Nat Geo's 125 years and Women of Vision. WOV features 11 female photojournalists and selected pieces from their respective bodies of work. It was an inspiring walk through these interactive modules that display intimate glimpses of communities, cultures and life around us. Each photographer has her own section along the U-shaped exhibit and as you read the descriptions, the photographer's voice is played giving more detail into her process or experience capturing these stories. A few interesting facts about some of these distinguished women:
Lynsey Addario is a gutsy photographer that has covered the hardship of women in conflict zones. She has photographed all over the Middle East but not without trials. On assignment in 2011 for the NYTimes, she and her colleagues were kidnapped and abused in Libya. Through negotiations, she and her team were released after several days. Taking time to recover and be with loved ones, Lynsey has returned to conflict zones to continue her work. The photograph above shows a mother and a daughter on the side of a dirt road in Afghanistan. The daughter was in labor and on their way to the closest hospital when their vehicle broke down. While her husband was farther along the road seeking assistance, Lynsey and her team pulled over to talk to these women. Upon learning of their situation, they drove the family to the hospital and the daughter had a healthy delivery.
For Nat Geo assignments, photographers capture between 30,000-90,000 photos. Photo editors comb through the images, analyze, discuss with assignment collaborators, and select between a handful and 30 for the final pool. The photos that are printed and displayed show not only a technical quality of excellence but a spirit of emotion, experience and humanness particular to the story that is assigned. The women behind the lens that have captured these moments go where most will not or cannot and through these stories, share that we are not alone, that there is much of the world to discover and understand.
Maggie Steber has photographed in 63 countries and is an award-winning documentary photographer. When applying for her first job at a Texas daily paper, the hiring manager told her that the job would go to a male interviewee. She asked for 24 hours to prove herself and stayed up all night, took photos, printed them, conducted interviews, wrote the story and submitted it the next day ready for publication. She was hired. Awesome.
Stephanie Sinclair has lived in tumultuous areas of the Middle East and has been able to capture wartime and gender-sensitive environments culminating in a striking documentary Too Young to Wed, a project sharing the world of arranged child marriages.
The photo above shows Nujood Ali with her sisters and an expression of delight and freedom. She was 10 years old living in Yemen when she fled her abusive husband, took a cab to the courthouse and sought out a divorce. Her bold protest has drawn international attention to this subject and the rights and protections of women in this part of the world.
Amy Toensing is a visual storyteller that enjoys photographing the intersection of cultures. She was first drawn to photography by the book "The Family of Woman," a documentary of black and white photos displaying femininity across humanity. Always traveling with a French press and a course of antibiotics (just in case), she has catalogued stories such as the process of migrant broccoli pickers in Maine to the years long drought that affected Australia in 2009.
The exhibit is well worth the visit and is open daily at the National Geographic Museum until March 9. If you are able to go, I highly recommend it and look, LivingSocial even has a deal for you.