THROUGH THE LENS: National Geographic Greatest Photographs

Leah Bendavid-Val, Editor . National Geographic Books $30 (504p) ISBN 978-0-7922-6164-3

This monumental collection of 250 photos, mostly in color and drawn from the National Geographic Society's archive of 10.5 million, will be published simultaneously in 20 languages, with an eye toward the 113-year-old magazine's international readership of 40 million. As in the magazine, the society's signature blend of dramatic, rigorously composed natural shots and "family of nations"–style culture peeps are backed by broad captions and text ("Perfecting la dolce vita, the people of Europe are renowned for their wholehearted embrace of life's rewards, from festivals to fine dining to stolen moments with friends or loved ones") often far exceeded by the pictures themselves. Meticulously (and sympathetically) deconstructed in Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins's early '90s book Reading National Geographic, the society's broader-crossing humanism is in full effect here—and it retains its arresting power. The six sections ("Europe"; "Asia"; "Africa & the Middle East"; "The Americas"; "Oceans and Isles"; "The Universe") include the first color underwater photographs, as well as collaborative work with NASA, and prominently credit the 84 photographers whose work is featured, giving the book a less homogenous feel. More than 50% of the photos, crisply printed and mostly double-truck, are from the last 10 years, with iconic favorites (like the 1985 cover portrait of a green-eyed Afghan woman and its 1997 full-burqa reprise) threaded in. Weighing in at seven pounds, with an initial international printing of 375,000 and with an accompanying exhibition this fall at the society's Washington, D.C., Explorer's Hall museum, this book should make a considerable impression. (Oct. 1)

Reviewed on: 08/18/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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