Academic journal article Afterimage

Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment

Academic journal article Afterimage

Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment

Article excerpt

National Geographic Museum

Washington, DC

October 10, 2013-March 9, 2014

Being a woman is just one consideration among many for the female photojournalist, particularly one shooting for the esteemed publication National Geographic. There's also age and cultural and economic background bearing on how a photographer interprets another culture as well as how they might be perceived. One might wonder if' there is a reason to single out women, who comprise more than half' the population, as having particular attributes that make them able to tell some stories better than men.

It is true that the ninety-nine large (45 x 54 inch), primarily color images in the exhibition Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment cover issues pertaining specifically to women, from child brides to prostitution and polygamy. it is because these photographers are women that they have access to these situations and can create and engender the trust necessary for authentic moments--as, for example, in Stephanie Sinclair's coverage of a Mormon sect's multiple wives swimming in a river. Sometimes, as for Kitra Cahana, it is not just gender that grants access, but also age; her youth helped her gain trust and access to document teens interacting with one another and their parents for her story Teenage Brain (2011).

Unlike photographs or direct, graphic violence or the quick imagery of daily news, many of this exhibition's images thoughtfully pictorialize the more amorphous aspects of humanit', moments that are difficult to photograph because they are simply not overtly visual, such as Maggie Steber's story It ir Letters (2005), documenting correspondence during times ol war, ui Lynn.johnson's work documenting epidemics such as the avian flu, and her images chronicling the disappearance of indigenous languages. Claims Johnson, "We have so much access to the world and to people's lives--their private lives. When they allow us in, it carries with it a responsibility to share those things in a broader way. (1)

The women in this exhibition have returned from many an exodus (Jodi Cobb having been to more than sixty-five (ountries, for example) with stories of sleep sadness, despair, or threats, and with son wilting to reveal about those situations: photographs that might suggest another world is possible. These images connect us to conflict, environmental dangers, and social problems, ranging from Diane Cook's quiet observations of urban green roofs and Beverly joubert's endangered big cats in Africa to Amy Toensing's reportage on the Australian drought. Implores curator Elizabeth Krist, "How can we make the world better, connect people on a human level to know what people really need? It's not enough to say 'this is amazing'--you have to have something to say about it." (2)

Who gets their say, though? Notably, there are no women of color in this exhibition. just as this exhibit demonstrates gender gaps, there are other gaps still, with the privileged gaze examining "other cultures." However, despite its 125-year legacy as a kind of colonial eye with its unchanging gold-margined cover, National Geographic is striving to bring more diversity to its ranks, having recently hired Keith Jenkins, an African American, as one of two new directors of photography. Sarah been also came on as a director of photography (the first woman), and Kathy Moran as a senior photo editor, among other female photo editors. Krist shares the hope to become more democratic and offer more varied points of view: "I would love it if there was never a reason to do a show of women photographers just because they are women." (3) But the time hasn't come, yet, as only about twenty percent of National Geographic photographers are women. An exhibition paying tribute specifically to *omen still has its place.

Cobb, one of the first women photographers for the magazine, said that when she first started shooting, her mother commented, "You know, honey, no great chasm was ever leaped in two small jumps. …

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