National Geographic photographers might take as many as 90,000 photos over several years for a single story. And yet, each month, when that yellow frame lands on millions of doorsteps, viewers see only a dozen.
In a new exhibit, “Beyond the Story: National Geographic Unpublished,” a handpicked set of previously unseen frames from last year is being revealed at the National Geographic Museum. Despite not making it past the discerning army of editors, they’re as stunning as the ones that did.
In the magazine, a photograph must be firmly supported by composition, color and emotion, all of which contribute to its meaning, according to curator and National Geographic senior photo editor Alice Gabriner. Each photo must also support the story's underlying thesis. Any photo that doesn't meet these strict criteria, no matter how gorgeous, is likely to not make the cut.
But, in this exhibition, it's just about the photos.
“It’s a photo editor’s dream to be able to say, ‘Oh, I’ll take two David Alan Harveys and three Paolo Pellegrins,’” Gabriner said, ordering off a fantasy menu of photographers. She selected the 42 photos from 33 of the year’s stories for the exhibit.
Each photo has a placard that explains part of the story behind its making. Beneath a picture of a horseback rider on an Oglala Lakota memorial ride is a note explaining that, after pressing the shutter, photographer Aaron Huey was smacked by a tree branch and all but tumbled from his horse.
On the east wall of the exhibit is a never-before-released, two-minute video of a cheetah at 60 mph. During the project to record cheetahs at top speeds, a Cincinnati Zoo animal named Sarah broke the world record for fastest 100-meter dash, nearly halving Olympian Usain Bolt’s fastest time.
There's also a photo of Manny the Afghan hound, placed appropriately next to a photo of three Romanian girls whipping their tresses to Roma pop.
The society, which celebrates its 125th birthday this year, has set “The New Age of Exploration” as its theme for 2013. Upcoming features include a portrait and video series by Marco Grob profiling the world's risk-takers and a story following our ancestors' footsteps out of Africa.
Gabriner will be leading two special walk-throughs of the exhibit at the museum Monday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m, and Thursday, June 27, at 7 p.m. The museum is located at 1145 17th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C.