Founded in 1888 and published without a break since, National Geographic magazine has built up an enormous and extraordinary archive of photographs over the years. Indeed, some of these photos have become iconic and instantly recognizable images – and yet others weren’t published at the time and haven’t been seen since. Now, however, National Geographic has published a selection of them – and they make for truly compelling viewing.
20. Like toy soldiers…
Photographer James P. Blair, himself born in 1931, took this picture in London, England, in 1966. The Irish Guardsmen in the photo are in fact on parade to mark the Queen’s official birthday. Later, Blair told National Geographic, “I was told afterwards that you’re literally trained to fall at attention. If you’re standing at attention, you fall at attention, and it was just like a toy soldier falling over.”
19. Young love
Unrivaled in its reputation as a destination for lovers, Paris certainly seems to be the place to go for photographers wanting to capture the essence of romance. And, lit by street lamps after rain, with the Arc de Triomphe in the background, this image itself surely encapsulates the city of love. Thomas Nebbia, who in fact started his career as a U.S. army combat photographer in the Korean War, captured this evocative moment in 1960.
18. The Tunnel Log
Andrew H. Brown – a National Geographic writer and photographer who died at the age of 92 in 2005 – took this picture in 1951. The tree, known as the Tunnel Log, is in California’s Sequoia National Park and fell in 1937. Before its demise from natural causes, the tree stood some 275 feet tall and is thought to have been more than 2,000 years old. And park visitors can still drive through the giant trunk today.
17. Schoolboys and penguins
Three very British-looking boys pose at London Zoo with what is properly – and delightfully – called a “waddle” of penguins. B. Anthony Stewart and Davis S. Boyer, both National Geographic staffers, teamed up to create this image in 1953. In 1959, when National Geographic editors decided to break with tradition for the first time by using a photograph on the magazine’s cover, they used one of Anthony Stewart’s images.
16. President Kennedy lying in state
Born in California in 1935, George Mobley took this photograph from the heights of the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., and it’s certainly a poignant shot. The picture was taken on 24 November 1963 – and two days previously, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. During the resulting procession, the coffin had traveled along Pennsylvania Avenue on a horse-drawn gun carriage, watched by 300,000 mourners.
15. Water skiers
Robert Sisson took this photo of four women skimming at more than 20 miles per hour across Darts Lake, New York. The shot was captured in 1956, and the four women certainly display impressive co-ordination as they hurtle across the lake, each balanced elegantly on single skis with their other legs raised.
14. Rock wave
Although born in Cincinnati, Ohio, photographer Robert B. Goodman lived in Australia for five years from 1962 to 1967. This shot from Western Australia shows an incredible rock formation which was in fact naturally sculpted by wind and rain. Goodman bagged a job working for National Geographic in 1960 as a result of taking a hair-raising set of photos at the summit of an active volcano.
13. Sitting bull
Charles Martin, who was born in 1877 and lived to be 100 years old, took this extraordinary photograph near Pleasanton, California, in 1926. The bull is in fact a Hereford, and we can only assume that it had an exceptionally placid temperament. With modern health and safety rules, of course, it’s not a shot that anyone would be likely to take today. Interestingly, Martin was actually an early proponent of color photography and is renowned as the man who made the first underwater color photos.
12. Ceremonial scars
While on a scientific expedition in the Sudan in 1962 with his father, Oskar, Horst Luz took this photograph of a young woman adorned with intricate ceremonial scarring. The shot, published in National Geographic in 1966 to accompany an article by Oskar, shows a graphic example of the deliberate scarring practiced by the Nuba people, both men and women.
11. Jamaica Bay
These two horse riders sharing a mount are pictured in Jamaica Bay, New York, in 1979, traveling across land which was in fact created by the dumping of trash in the bay. David Alan Harvey, born in 1944, took this shot and has been publishing work in National Geographic since 1973. In the background of this image, the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center rise over Manhattan, six years after they were built and 22 years before they were destroyed.
10. Stop at red
Traffic lights are something we encounter in our daily lives, pleasing us when they’re green, mildly irritating us when they’re red. But how often do you think about how they’re made? This shot by J. Baylor Roberts shows how it was done in 1947 at a factory in Shreveport, Louisiana.
9. Chilling by the pool
This photograph from J. Baylor Roberts showcases the good life being enjoyed by a group of well-to-do Californians as they lounge by the pool in 1940. The setting is almost impossibly idyllic, but war was looming on the horizon.
8. Mark Twain tree
This example of a National Geographic photograph is a very early one indeed. In fact, the shot was taken in 1892, just four years after the magazine’s first issue was published in 1888. N.E. Beckwith took the striking image, in which we see the so-called “Mark Twain” giant sequoia, cut down at the age of 1,341 years, when it was 331 feet tall.
7. The Britannic
This picture shows the 1915 launch of ocean-going liner the Britannic from Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland. The Britannic was a sister ship to the ill-fated Titanic, and it too was destined to sink. It was hit by a mine in the Mediterranean in 1916 when acting as a First World War hospital ship. Yet of its 1,065 crew and passengers, 1,035 were rescued – a dramatically better outcome than that which befell the Titanic. The identity of the photographer, meanwhile, is unknown.
6. Retro tattoo
Tattoos are highly fashionable with the hipster crowd today, but they’re nothing new, of course. This image, by way of example, was captured in 1939 in Norfolk, Virginia. Snapped by Paul L. Pryor, the photograph shows a sailor being inked by a tattooist who’s obviously a keen fan of the practice. Today, interestingly, Norfolk is actually host to the world’s largest naval base.