I have always enjoyed flipping through the pages of National Geographic because they contain such wonderful and powerful images. A few years ago, I was sitting in a jury room at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles when I came across issues of the magazine from the 1940s and 1950s. I was a bit surprised because I did not know that National Geographic was in publication back then. Well, I recently learned that the magazine has actually been around for 125 years! Specifically, I heard about The Power of Photography: National Geographic 125 Years exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography. (Annenberg is one of the places I highlighted in “Los Angeles as a Museums Capital: Part II“.) The show opened back in October 2013, but I was only able to finally see and experience it this past weekend. I am so glad that I went because the exhibit both amazed and inspired me. As I shared previously in “Images, Instagram, and City Planning,” I am a firm believer in the power of photography and recognize how important it is in our lives. This exhibit has further reminded me that images have the incredible abilities to communicate, unite, and motivate people to action.
Organized in collaboration with National Geographic, The Power of Photography celebrates the unique publication’s 125th anniversary. In case you are not aware, National Geographic is the official journal of the National Geographic Society. In addition to the exhibit at Annenberg, the magazine celebrated its 125th anniversary with a special commemorative October 2013 issue which highlights its ongoing efforts to use the power of photography to document, explore, educate, inspire, and preserve the world around us. The show features a special print and digital exhibition, as well as two documentaries. Walking through the exhibit can be a bit overwhelming because the walls are covered by mosaics of over 400 images which document the history of National Geographic photography from 1888 to now. The exhibit also offers an extensive digital installation showcasing more than 500 images. To see a few of the images, please visit this website. Thirty large format LED monitors are arranged to create video walls that range from 12 to 14 feet in width, presenting both individual images and photographic essays. In addition, some photographs are on display outside of the building. Because of the volume of photos on the screens and the format in which the images loop at different times throughout the galleries, the viewing experience is unique to each visitor and each visit. Frankly, I feel like I have to return to Annenberg a few more times just to properly experience this amazing show!
While the images are wonderful, I must say that what I enjoyed the most was the documentary that profiles renowned photographers whose work appears in the October National Geographic issue. The video contains images, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage along with commentary from National Geographic editors, and offers insights into the creation of images that reveal the unseen, unknown, and unexpected layers of our world. I also liked the short compilation video comprised of photographers talking about the power of photography and the inspirations for their work. This compilation is complemented by a series of longer video interviews with 20 photographers represented in the exhibit and a loop of videos created over the past several years for the magazine’s digital edition.
The documentary I mentioned above features the following six photographers: Lynsey Addario, Marcus Bleasdale, David Guttenfelder, Abelardo Morell, Joel Sartore and Martin Schoeller. It was very encouraging and inspiring for me to listen to these individuals talk, especially because of their love and dedication for their work. For example, Addario was one of four New York Times journalists who were captured by the Libyan government back in 2011 but was later released. Even though she was abused physically and psychologically while in captivity, Addario still wants to be on the front line, and showed a lot of determination and courage in the interview. Guttenfelder also stood out to me because he had the unique assignment of covering the reclusive North Korea. His ability and effort to document life in that country is noteworthy; please see his photographs here. Sartore should be recognized as well for his commitment to capture on film, and more importantly save, species and habitat across the world.
If you have not been to the Annenberg Space for Photography before, I highly encourage you to check it out. It is a state-of-the-art facility that is highly rated by patrons (4.5 stars out of 5, with over 200 reviews on Yelp). Interestingly, its interior design is influenced by the mechanics of a camera and its lens. According to Annenberg, the central, circular digital gallery (where the documentaries are shown) is contained within the square building to create “an architectural metaphor for a convex lens.” Additionally, the ceiling features an iris-like design that is like the aperture of a lens. Photo-taking is not allowed inside the building, but click here to see a few official photographs of the interior. Some may say that the Annenberg is too small for an exhibit with so much interest. I agree to some extent (as it was at times quite crowded inside), but I also appreciate the creative and masterful job the curators did in putting the show together despite the physical limitations or constraints of the facility.
The Power of Photography is an amazing exhibit. Be sure to see and experience it before the show ends on April 27, 2014. The Annenberg is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is free, and parking is just $1.00 with validation on the weekend. For more information, go here.
Screenshot of The Power of Photography exhibit page from the Annenberg Space for Photography
Annenberg Space for Photography photos by author