Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 | 1:34 p.m.
It was an overwhelming and monumental task. How do you select the 50 greatest National Geographic photographs from the millions taken in its 125-year history? Every year, about 1.5 million shots are taken on assignment, but only some 1,000 make it into the 12 monthly issues.
Now the photo editors of the magazine with its global circulation of 8 million in 36 languages have curated the 50 greatest from 50,000 published in the last 50 years. The magazine was created in 1888.
The exhibit, created in 2011 for display in Tokyo, Mexico and Mongolia, is headed here. It will open Feb. 14, replacing “Da Vinci: the Genius” at the Imagine Exhibitions Gallery in The Venetian, and Vegas DeLuxe received a preview.
The oldest image on show is William Allard’s 1967 shot of the Basque countryside. The newest were shot in 2009 and include Lynsey Addario’s Afghan women in blue, Michael Nichols’ redwood tree, Paolo Pellegrin’s Dead Sea and Wes Skiles’ caves in the Bahamas.
These are the world’s most remembered and celebrated photos and also include Thomas Abercrombie’s never-before-seen view of Mecca and Nick Nichols’ image of Jane Goodall and her chimpanzees.
At the 6,800-sqare-foot gallery, visitors will be able to see the sequence of “near frame” images made before and after “the perfect shot.” Additionally, there are documentary videos throughout the exhibit that tell the stories behind the photos and photographers.
“We are thrilled to host this as our second installation,” said Tom Zaller, president of Imagine Exhibitions. “We strive to provide Las Vegas with inspirational, thought-provoking and immersive exhibitions. This partnership with National Geographic is a perfect fit.”
Here’s my interview with Tom:
Robin Leach: With millions of photos to choose from, what determined “the greatest” in National Geographic editors’ opinions?
Tom Zaller: Certainly photography angles and composition, but a lot of it is capturing moments in time, whether it be the famous Afghan girl or some deserted wilderness area that nobody has ever seen before. One photographer on assignment on a northern Hawaiian island captured the autopsy of a dead bird and opened up found it full of plastic that the mother had brought back for the bird to eat. … These dramatic moments, these moments in time, are forever remembered.
R.L.: Is the stunning photography of National Geographic as widely popular as it was in the days before television?
T.Z.: Print in general has certainly changed over time. There are so many more mediums for people to see things now. I think National Geographic, knowing a picture is worth a thousand words, you turn it to video in our exhibition, it can be worth even more. It communicates and stays with the times. We have the 50 greatest images, but we also have a series of videos that tell the behind-the-scenes story about what happened when the photo was taken.
The story of that Afghan girl, for example: The photographer was on assignment on the Afghan/Pakistan border, and he asked about this girl because she had pretty eyes. They told him the story about how her family’s village had been bombed, and she walked for two weeks to reach a refugee camp where she was in a makeshift tent camp.
That’s where he saw her, and because of that one photo, the photographer says he can’t tell us just how many people have volunteered to help out in those camps -- far too many to count. So the photos are lasting impressions that inspire people to greatness.
R.L.: No question they are compelling, but what else describes the uniqueness of these National Geographic photos?
T.Z.: Inspirational. We always try to have people leave inspired in some way. This is different than our ‘Da Vinci’ at The Venetian or Titanic at the Luxor because it covers so many subjects. But I think you would be hard pressed to not leave this one inspired. Whether you are inspired by the greatness of an incredible 1,600-year-old tree that was photographed or the fact that it took a guy to figure out how to capture it.
These are amazing people doing amazing things capturing amazing moments. The timeline of National Geographic photos is extraordinary. Their photos go back to 1905 with a tour of the Tibetan ruins. Some of the first photographs taken of Machu Picchu were the first color photographs of National Geographic.
R.L.: Previously, it has been in the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. Why did you decide to bring it to Las Vegas? Will it appeal to tourists and locals?
T.Z.: I have worked with National Geographic on other projects. I sort of stumbled on the fact that they had this. It is something that is accessible. It is a known brand. People know what it is -- they are well recognized for the photographs. A tourist may be looking for something to do but doesn’t want something intentionally educational or too much work.
The beauty of this is you can walk in and enjoy the 50 best photographs in the world and the videos behind them. Come in and spend a half hour and be satisfied or read the context that goes along with each photo and how it was composed and what was happening at that moment. And you can watch all the videos and get a more in-depth experience.
For people living in Las Vegas, there is not a lot of venues to go see this type of thing. I think it is a gift to be able to have these types of artistic, cultural events come here. We are pretty well supported, and we see a lot of local traffic. The art scene in Las Vegas is growing every day, and people know that the way that it continues to grow is by supporting the exhibits.
If a photo is said to be worth a thousand words, then these photos are worth a million each -- actually, it is beyond counting!
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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