The 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic is a sobering glimpse of life on this planet, a snapshot of disconnect between divergent cultures, the wrath of nature, the recklessness of man and the oneness that connects us all. It will break your heart as much as it will make you smile.
That’s sort of what happens when wandering between underwater cave diving in the Bahamas, flaming oil fields in Kuwait, a tornado in South Dakota and a plane crashing into a pickup truck during a Guatemalan earthquake.
The scale and presentation of the images taken by various photographers over the decades give viewers a chance to connect with and absorb each narrative, whether it’s an Albatross chick that died after ingesting pieces of plastic debris on the Hawaiian Islands or a close-knit family living in a Suwannee River shack in Florida.
- 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic
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“Beyond the Photograph” stories capture the personal experience along with the professional and technical process: a split second of good fortune—right place, right time—or hours spent setting up equipment, scouting locations and navigating terrain. Sam Abell spent 12 hours photographing pears in a window in a Moscow apartment. Wes Skiles took 34,000 photographs while a team in scuba gear handled the lights and strobes in order to get the right image of the mysterious world of an underwater cave.
Gerd Ludwig talks about his meeting with schoolchildren in Moscow affected by pollution, resulting in a group portrait of beautiful, fresh-faced kids posing in their undergarments, each missing half an arm.
50 Greatest is an impressive collection that helps us understand the beautiful chill of reindeer herding in the former U.S.S.R., the freedom of a polar bear swimming underwater in Canada and the devastation of an Australian drought. The images help close the gap of unfamiliarity and bring out inevitable questions: Is the world a vicious place interrupted by moments of beauty? Or are beauty and violence so delicate and unpredictable that greatness is as much a crapshoot as tragedy?