Monday, July 1, 2013

If you really need a reason to buy this magnificent National Geographic book... it is:

In these pages readers can follow the evolution of the photograph. Techniques aside, some of the earliest photos compare favourably with those today. Why? Because, like the chicken and the egg, imagination and image must go together. It is the photographer, not just his camera, that catches the moment.

~ From the foreword by Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman of the board of the National Geographic Society

What a wonderful phrase that is: "Imagination and image must go together." And this is exactly what happens in National Geographic magazine all the time, every time. Not only are the photos uncommon; the captions are also works of art. (By the way, that excerpt from the foreword also contains an example of a sentence that begins with because. I am pointing it out here because every year I am asked in class if it is "correct" to begin a sentence with because. And I respond, "Yes, it is.")

Now, in National Geographic: The Photographs, the photographers themselves tell us the stories behind their pictures. Here's an excerpt:

Anxiety accompanies Jim Stanfield on every assignment, so he photographs everything he can think of. "I blanket a subject. I maul a story until it's lying on its back like a turtle," he says.

For a piece on Poland, he felt he needed a technology picture. He discovered a self-taught heart surgeon who had read scientific papers about transplants. Stanfield photographed the doctor performing two consecutive (and successful) heart transplants in a marathon that lasted almost 24 hours.

"I kept studying the doctor and watching his eyes," says Stanfield. "He was so focused, he didn't even know I was there."

About 20 hours into the ordeal, Stanfield made a picture of the surgeon that shows the drama and exhaustion.

The photograph is among the many that are part of the collection in the book, so you can study it after you have read about Stanfield's experience. Isn't that a great way to learn more about taking, sorry, making pictures from some of the world's best photographers?

National Geographic: The Photographs was apparently the gift book of the year when it was first published. In my view, it is the gift book of the year, no matter what year it is.

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