WASHINGTON (Aug. 9, 2004)–As a sequel to its New York Times bestseller “Through the Lens: National Geographic Greatest Photographs,” National Geographic is publishing a powerful retrospective of portrait photography this fall. IN FOCUS: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC GREATEST PORTRAITS (National Geographic Books, ISBN 0-7922-7363-X, October 2004, $30), edited by Leah Bendavid-Val, showcases the people of the world, spanning more than 100 years and covering every corner of the globe. The lavish 504-page, coffee-table book, featuring more than 280 of National Geographic’s most remarkable photographic portraits, will be published simultaneously in a dozen languages and will be available worldwide in October for the low price of $30.
The book presents portraits from a host of viewpoints, ranging from the highly formal to the unexpected chance encounter. Subjects span the exotic to the familiar, celebrities and ordinary folks, individuals and groups.
William Albert Allard, one of the essayists in the book, writes, “A fine portrait has the potential to tell something about the spirit of the subject that can be sensed by someone half a world and a different language away. [It says] something universal and simple: This is another person in our world and I’d like you to meet him or her.” By presenting a large cross-section of “other people in our world,” the book aims to promote cultural understanding and tolerance and to celebrate our similarities as well as our differences as co-inhabitants of our planet.
The pictures, which explore every aspect of the portraitist’s art and craft, were chosen from National Geographic’s archive of 10.5 million photographs. The book features scores of never-before-seen images, such as a 1925 picture of a Greenlander holding a photograph of Arctic explorer Robert Peary given to him by Peary himself, alongside award-winning favorites like Steve McCurry’s green-eyed Afghan refugee girl.
IN FOCUS highlights the work of more than 150 of National Geographic’s celebrated photographers. They include Sam Abell, William Albert Allard, Annie Griffiths Belt, Jodi Cobb, David Alan Harvey, Karen Kasmauski, Robb Kendrick, Michael Nichols, Reza, Joel Sartore, James Stanfield, George Steinmetz, Maynard Owen Williams, and many more, whose extensive expertise provides the spectacular, sensitive imagery in the book.
National Geographic photographers have taken more pictures of people than of any other subject, indicating “a photographer’s desire to connect with people — to capture something consequential about another person,” writes National Geographic magazine Associate Editor Chris Johns in his foreword. “To capture the spirit and essence of other human beings is a challenge beyond measure, but when it happens, and the photograph comes together, the creation brings joy.”
The striking cover image, of a 15-year-old rancher’s daughter from Elko, Nev., was made by Robb Kendrick in September 2003, using the historic tintype, or ferrotype, process. Invented in the 1800s, this lengthy photographic process requires that the subject commit time and energy, which makes for a deeper relationship between photographer and subject — the image becomes a collaboration and has an intense intimacy that draws the viewer in.
The book opens with a compelling look at National Geographic’s contribution to our knowledge of the world’s people through photography. The five chapters that follow are divided into two-decade segments that explore critical periods in world history and photographic styles. The photographs from each era, taken together, constitute a global portrait — a snapshot of the world at that time. Each chapter takes up changes in photographic equipment and techniques, from cumbersome cameras and long exposures that necessitated stiff, formal portraits to the advent of color film and smaller, lightweight gear that allowed informal spontaneity.
Each chapter begins with an essay by a renowned photographer, who gives an overview or personal perspective of a particular era. The essayists are Stuart Franklin (before the 1930s), Sam Abell (1930s-1940s), Jodi Cobb (1950s-1960s), William Albert Allard (1970s-1980s) and David Alan Harvey (1990s-present).
These photographers have also contributed a favorite family portrait that they have made, with commentary on why that image is special to them. In addition, they offer insights into their own and other photographers’ work, analyzing what makes an image powerful or giving behind-the scenes explanations of what went into making a particular portrait.
Within each chapter, the pictures are grouped according to theme, with Bendavid-Val setting the scene, explaining how National Geographic photographers tackled particular subjects during different eras, and providing comments on and insights into various images.
Filled with arresting, evocative images that touch the viewer’s imagination, IN FOCUS is an elegant and affordable volume, showcasing both the special visions of some of the world’s finest photographers and the universal appeal of our shared humanity in its many moods.
An exhibition of more than 60 images from the book can be seen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 2, 2004, through Jan. 2, 2005. A press preview announcing the opening of the exhibit will be held at the museum on
Thursday, Sept. 30, at 10 a.m. A book signing and lecture by Leah Bendavid-Val and Sam Abell will be held at the museum’s Baird Auditorium on Friday, Oct. 1, at noon.
Slide presentations and book signings by William Albert Allard and Robb Kendrick will be held at the following venues:
●St. Paul, Minn. — Allard at Bound to Be Read (870 Grand Ave.), Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.
●Philadelphia — Kendrick at Borders (1727 Walnut St.), Oct. 6, 6 p.m.
●Lake Forest Park, Wash. — Allard at Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way NE #A101),
Oct. 6, 7 p.m.
●Chicago — Kendrick at Borders (2817 N Clark St.), Oct. 7, 7 p.m.
●Seattle — Allard at University Book Store (University of Washington, 4326 NE University), Oct. 7, 7 p.m.
●Corte Madera, Calif. — Kendrick at Book Passage (51 Tamal Vista Blvd.), Oct. 12, 7 p.m.
●Boulder, Colo. — Kendrick at Boulder Bookstore (1107 Pearl St.), Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m.
●Denver — Kendrick at Denver Press Club (1330 Glenarm Place), Oct. 14, 12 p.m.
●Dallas — Kendrick at Borders (10720 Preston Rd.), Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m.
●Miami — Kendrick at the Miami Book Fair (Miami Dade College, 300 Northeast Second Ave.), the weekend of Nov. 13.
National Geographic Live!, National Geographic’s program of speakers, films and performances, will present a lecture with Leah Bendavid-Val and photographers Sam Abell, Jodi Cobb, David Alan Harvey and Robb Kendrick at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium on Thursday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m.
A collection of photographic prints from IN FOCUS will be available for purchase this fall at fine art galleries across the country, as part of an alliance with iPHOTOART Inc.
IN FOCUS editor Bendavid-Val is a writer and curator of photography and editorial director of National Geographic photography books. She has written about photography for the Washington Post, National Geographic and other publications. She has organized photography exhibitions for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the International Center of Photography in New York and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow. Bendavid-Val edited “Through the Lens: National Geographic Greatest Photographs,” and is the author of “Propaganda & Dreams: Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the US,” “Changing Reality: Recent Soviet Photography” and “Stories on Paper and Glass.” She lives in Washington, D.C.