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National Geographic celebrates 125th anniversary

By dpreview staff on Jan 21, 2013 at 20:01 GMT

The National Geographic Society is celebrating its 125th anniversary this month. These days, the society's magazine has a reputation for promoting great photography, but when it was first published in October 1888, National Geographic was a scientific journal containing no photographs at all. From a small readership in the early days to some 8 million subscribers around the globe each month, the magazine has come a long way. 

This photograph of a young Afghan girl in a Pakistan refugee camp, taken by Steve McCurry appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine’s June 1985 issue. It has since become one of the most iconic cover images in the magazine's history. The December 1969 issue of National Geographic featured this famous image, taken by Neil Armstrong, of Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walking across the surface of the moon.

As technology developed, and the expectations of its growing readership evolved, so did The National Geographic's approach to photography. The early decades of the 20th Century saw the first use of of black-and-white and color-tinted photographs, and the 1920s and 1930s brought with them increased use of color photography. In the 1960s the magazine launched its first all-color issue and a cover photograph replaced the oak and laurel leaves, acorns and hemispheres that adorned the cover for six decades. 

And here's another first - color photographs taken underwater. Using 'cameras encased in waterproof housing and pounds of highly explosive magnesium flash powder for underwater illumination', William Longley and National Geographic photographer Charles Martin made the first underwater color photographs in 1926.
Color photography developed a lot during the 20th Century. This picture by Barry Bishop shows the first American team to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1963.


Total comments: 26
By rgnewell (Jan 26, 2013)

National Geographic speaks out of both sides of their mouth. In one article NG listed a number of unique sites on the planet requiring preservation. Then NG Traveller listed "1000 Places" we should visit before we die. Running all over the globe and burning fossil fuel guarantees no preservation and global climate change. I would be nice if NG would talk about this.


Roger Newell
San Diego

RaZZ3R Death
By RaZZ3R Death (Jan 23, 2013)

Why does the first ever color picture taken underwater have a UFO in it ?!? In the top left corner.

1 upvote
By Pedagydusz (Jan 23, 2013)

It is not an UFO: it is a USO (Underwater Submarine Object) ;-)
Anyway, UFOs have been around long before photography: remember the Pyramids? Stonehenge? Many other monuments? ;-)

By Pastynator (Jan 24, 2013)

It's quite clearly a fish :P *killjoy mode deactivated*

By mikusa (Jan 25, 2013)

*Unidentified Submarine Object

By RichardAB (Jan 22, 2013)

I went to Steve McCurry's exhibition in Brimingham (UK) in August 2011.

Obviously there were some fantastic images on display, including the 'Afghan Girl'. A detailed description was given explaining how the eyes were achieved, post production. Basically, the eyes are not those of the Afghan Girl.

For me, I don't like manipulation to that degree, it crosses the line, there is no authenticity as a portrait.

I expect some will agree and that some won't. For some, lines don't exist, anything goes. For others, lines are drawn but in different places.

By Pedagydusz (Jan 23, 2013)

I didn't know that, and I must say I am a bit disappointed with that revelation!

1 upvote
By barriejb (Jan 23, 2013)

I didn't know this.
I thought after the fiasco of moving the pyramids many years ago Nat Geo didn't manipulate images. This is VERY surprising.
I am not opposed to manipulation but I do think in photojournalism the standards have to be better than this. At the very least images should carry a tag about how they have been changes. This is not hard these days.

By jleom (Jan 23, 2013)

I didn't know that either. That is really strange in light of this recent happening...

By pcow (Jan 24, 2013)

RichardAB, please don't tease us. ;) Can you give details on what they did to alter the eyes?

By RichardAB (Jan 24, 2013)

If you follow this link, you can see for yourself:

I have the book National Geographic The Photographs by Leah Bendavid-Val, in it it says the photo was taken in 1984, I don't think it was published though until 1985.

Karoly Posgay
By Karoly Posgay (Jan 27, 2013)

An expedition succeeded to find the Afghan girl 17 years after the original picture was taken. The best mode of identification was an iris check both on the original picture and on the different candidates. This iris check method proves, that "RichardAB" is wrong, as it is a nonsense to state the eyes on the famous portrait are not those of the Afghan Girl. I would expect an apology from "RichardAB" to Steve McCurry and also to all those people who think that the Afghan Girl is a great and original picture.

By RichardAB (Jan 28, 2013)

Quite simply, Karoly Posgay, the Afghan Girl does not have 'sea green' eyes, no Afghan does (genes).

There were other manipulations too. Suggest you attend an exhibition of the photo along with with diagramatic details of the manipulations made so you can see for yourself. I don't think anything I say here will convince you.

Mariusz Potocki
By Mariusz Potocki (Jan 22, 2013)

Congratulations! Happy anniversary and many thanks!

1 upvote
By 00112233 (Jan 22, 2013)

Congrat! But if they want to keep their very well deserved reputation, they will have to change their program concept in their NatGeo TV channel, for now overloaded with qvasi scientific, paranormal, mithological, new age, false historical, sensationalistic content and be more like the magazine they started 125 years ago. In this TV channel that is signed by NatGeo, the film and commentaries are as terrible as the photos and text in the magazine are great. So one wonders what is happening?

John Koch
By John Koch (Jan 22, 2013)

Nothing to wonder at all. It's all competition for viewership and ratings. The paranormal and mythological sell. Ask Dan Brown. People don't tune in to watch dissertations on the chemistry of rock formation. Not much of the magazine's text gets read, either.

1 upvote
By Combatmedic870 (Jan 22, 2013)

Congrats to them! Hope they can keep it up and stay in business!

Comment edited 13 seconds after posting
By lbuclk= (Jan 22, 2013)

Wonder what they will name it when we make it to other worlds, i.e. Mars with human explorers?

By Peiasdf (Jan 23, 2013)

National Geographic is hardly national anymore and they did not change the name to International or Geo Geographic

By WhoozOn1st (Jan 22, 2013)

With such a great and respectable background, it's a real shame that Nat Geo's basic cable TV channel (U.S.) is so overloaded with "reality" show drivel that's its reputation for quality is badly besmirched.

Antony John
By Antony John (Jan 22, 2013)

National Geographic meets Jerry Springer.
Totally agree.

1 upvote
Ed Okie
By Ed Okie (Jan 22, 2013)

Totally ironic, isn't it! Defies all logic. "Badly besmirched" is being kind with words.

By johnmcpherson (Jan 22, 2013)

When I was a child my goal was to be a National Geographic photographer.

I didn't make it but; it gave inspiration and it improved my photography with each issue that I read.

Congratulations! Keep up the great work and thank you.

Erick L
By Erick L (Jan 22, 2013)

I can trace my interest in photography to Nat Geo.

Happy anniversary and many thanks!

carlos roncatti
By carlos roncatti (Jan 21, 2013)

Congrats for making history...........

1 upvote
By Funduro (Jan 21, 2013)

Check out my avatar. That gaze with those eyes, beautiful muted color of the rest ogf the image..

Total comments: 26