Odyssey: The Art of Photography at National Geographic (part 2)


A prolonged, quiet unfolding of genius is what Jane Livingston, chief curator of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, calls the first century of National Geographic photography. Striving to portray our planet's remarkably diverse people, creatures, and landscapes, four generations of Geographic photographers have made their work an indelible part of our culture. When the Corcoran Gallery of Art, one of the nation's leading photographic museums, decided to organize an exhibition celebrating the National Geographic Society's centennial, their curators were granted complete access to the Society's formidable archives. "The Art of Photography at National Geographic", companion to the museum exhibition, presents 289 silver prints, autochromes, and full-color images from the Society's collections. Never before have the photographs in The Art of Photography been showcased as art; half of these works by 158 leading 19th- and 20th-century photographers are published here for the first time. "The Art of Photography" moves from the somber grace of early masterpieces like Henri Bechard's depictions of carved wooden balconies in Cairo, to the insightful humor of recent works like Chris Johns' portrait of two Canadians watching TV in a junked 1940s' sedan. Subjects and treatments range across space and time from the first undersea photograph to a shot of the moon taken by an Apollo 17 crew member, and portray the human experience as a Havasupai Indian cradles her infant and a Peruvian shepherd boy mourns the loss of his sheep. In their commitment to telling the story, Geographic photographers have developed techniques and aesthetic standards which give their work a special place in the history of American photography. Seemingly effortless technical mastery - in which these photographic pioneers have always excelled - has been invaluable in capturing the rare, the ancient, the elusive, and the endangered. Jane Livingston's perceptive introduction traces the history of photography at National Geographic and defines the Society's unique contribution to photographic art. "The Art of Photography" reproduces every image from the exhibition in full frame and full color. Identifying captions for each image are supplemented by additional information and artists' biographies in the book's appendix. A milestone in the appreciation of photography, "The Art of Photography" imparts the familiar pleasures of National Geographic - a fresh view of our world's countries, creatures, and cultures woven into a rich and wondrous tapestry.