There is now a website, The Photo Society, which has gathered working National Geographic photographers together under one roof on the internet. Now, getting any group of photographers together to do anything, in unison, is difficult. Getting this particular bunch of disparate personalities, egos, interests and formidable skill sets on the same page to act collectively and all show up at the same time requires something roughly akin to an act of congress, or perhaps even a forcibly worded subpoena. This is a collection of passionately individualistic people, who, in the field, spend a lot of time alone, working things out for themselves. They rely on instinct, not press releases, resolutely avoid the pack, and seek out the path less traveled, all in hope of an angle or perspective on a story that has not been seen before. They bridle at uniformity, being utterly, confidently convinced that their vision is the truth of the matter, and that vision is pursued relentlessly, often at great risk. Our rare gatherings are lively indeed, and vaguely reminiscent of the wild Celtic street celebration seen above, shot by the endlessly talented Jim Richardson.
As youths, in school, we were most likely deemed unruly, headstrong, and destined to engage in a lifetime of problematic, irritating behavior. Or perhaps become photographers. (Is that redundant?)
The price of admission to this website is actually being assigned and doing a National Geographic story for what is routinely called around the shop, “the yellow magazine.” Because of the degree of difficulty associated with doing this type of work, the photojournalists presented here constitute an exclusive club indeed. By my count, 86 all told. This group has done the core visual work for what is routinely referred to as the best picture magazine in the world for the last 30 years. What the Photo Society is doing here is drawing back the curtain a bit. What most folks understandably respond to are the pictures in the magazine– at turns stunning, daring, pictorially mesmerizing, thoughtful, searing, emotionally wrenching and always story driven. What they don’t see is the risk, physical and otherwise, the emotional involvement, the intensity of commitment, the first steps and ball games missed back home, the marriages set adrift, the financial brinksmanship routinely engaged in, the utter solitude of the decision making process in the field and the fevered, interior second guessing that induces in even the most confident of individuals. It is not, in short, for the faint of heart.
The site has been created and maintained by the hard and generous work of a gifted few, such as Randy Olson, George Steinmetz and Stephen Alvarez, who have done a great deal of the heavy lifting. They continue to develop it as an ongoing gallery, a repository of essential work. If one is aspiring to be a storyteller with a camera, it is a necessary resource, and should be a frequent stop on your internet travels.
There are flat out geniuses on the site, photographers whose work has informed and changed the way generations of shooters have looked at the world and approached doing stories. For instance, Bill Allard, whose stubborn, gruff independence as a visual communicator has inspired readers for 40 years.
And David Doubilet, an utterly indispensable underwater photographer, whose risk taking and visual daring defined the craft for generations.
And Lynn Johnson, whose quiet sympathy for people has created an archive of nuanced, subtle observation about the human condition.
There are also photogs who have literally created their own niche, driven by a singular passion for a place or people. George Steinmetz, who routinely straps the equivalent of a lawn mower engine and a ceiling fan to his backside and runs off cliffs to get airborne, has done aerial views of most if not all of the world’s deserts.
And Gerd Ludwig, who has specialized in Russia, the Eastern version of the wild west, and has risked greatly to define the ongoing tragedy of pollution and radiation contamination in the former Soviet Union.
What I love about the site is an area called “vignettes,” where the Nat Geo photographers share pithy, brief descriptions of their time in the field. If you peruse it even casually, you’ll notice it runs vividly counter to the imaginings that perhaps abound out there about the life of a National Geographic photographer. Contrary to myth, lore and legend, it is not a lifetime of abundance, first class air tickets, and luscious sunsets in exotic locations. Take a look below. It doesn’t read like a travel brochure.
Make a visit, if you would. It’s a rare and rich grouping of images, and a look at the ornery, gifted folks who created them. More tk…
What an awesome site.
“The price of admission to this website is actually being assigned and doing a National Geographic story ”
The cost of admission to being a National Geographic shooter?
Getting “Hunted with Bows and Arrows”!
Andy H. says
Thank you for your part in pulling the site together and giving us a glimpse into a rare world.
Ellis Vener says
Thanks for letting us know about this Joe. I am looking forward to your tale about being hunted by Bows and Arrows. Is that anything like Yale’s Skull and Bones? :0
Awesome, Joe. Got it bookmarked! Thank you.
What a gem of a site! Thanks for sharing Joe.
I guess most Westerners have not idea what goes on behing making the stunning images you get with NG.Like most great things, it all comes with great personal sacrifice.I just hope that when these amazing people draw the line, each one of them will be able to say it was all worth it.Living in constant cultural and economicaly changing world, this will not be easy.
JerseyStyle Photography says
Wow, what a rich, vast site.
Now I see why, Joe, you didn’t mind some of those corporate jobs we got the chance to work on. No parasites, amoebas, guns…just another boring conference room board (or bored) shot. 🙂
Christopher Campbell says
Oh, come on. You guys aren’t nearly as ornery as you like to pretend. In fact, you’re one of the friendliest bunch of people I have ever seen.
Joe McNally says
Quite true…we are a friendly bunch…till you tell us we can’t take that photo! :-)))
Joe McNally says
Nah…never bored behind the camera….:-))) We gotta figure out a way to hang soon….summer? Hope the new digs are going good….Joe
Pascal SauvÃ© says
Gorgeous site – one more on my daily trip to inspiration photographers land.
I kinda knew from stories I read from Mike Nichols how much of a toll some stories can take on the shooters body and mind but after looking at the “totals” injury chart – holy crop this is nuts !!!
As for “safe” corporate events – I dunno how safe it really is…lotsa of corporate cut-throats and blood sucking lawyers out there – hehehe 🙂
Paul Glover says
You know you’re passionate about what you do when burns, dislocations, car wrecks and being tear-gassed are in the bottom third of the list of things that can go wrong!
Incredible experiences shared!! Thanks Joe for sharing this with us. It might not be a dream job, but to be out there and experiencing the world!! What joy!
Hi Joe, I love your site and read it often.
I look forward to reading the new site and I cannot imagine what you guys have to do to get the photos.
I have tried going to the new site on multiple computers and it locks up the browser. You have to go into Task Manager and kill the process.
These are brand new workstations, Windows 7, IE8.
Ben Hollingsworth says
I first ran across the Photo Society web site through Joel Sartore’s web site. It’s very interesting. The thing about that last graphic that struck me:
Seat belt releases with helicopter tipped over volcano… _TWICE_
Chris Nemes says
Your post and that website made me go out and buy the latest NatGeo issue right away.
I’ve been having that website open for half a day already and it keeps pumping inspiration. I’m in the middle of sorting and archiving photos for a festival I’ve just shot. A society of photographers was the photo caffeine I needed to get it done.
Craig Brandt says
Great site, great insight to all who have contributed to Nat Geo. Thanks for sharing this Joe…
Aaron Cress says
21 Paraglider crashes… Maybe it is time to try balloons and a lawn chair for aerial photography. Keep up the great work and hope to join you in the air one day.
Darren Elias says
Wow… what a site. Thanks for pointing to this!
Rick Lewis says
You know Joe, growing up I can’t remember a time when my parents didn’t have a NG on the coffee table. That magazine gave me so much as a child (40 years ago) to dream about. I, like many, had no idea what it took to get those images.
Thanks for letting us take a peek into your world.
Jay Mann says
Okay, so when I was detained in a small town in Iran, by a nice soldier with a large automatic weapon it was not so bad, compared to some of these incidents.
It is amazing the level of risk and discomfort that photogs of all levels will endure to get the shot.
Alfonso Araya says
Thank you Joe!
Tatueringar | Tattoos says
Very nice blog! Added it to my bookmarks 🙂
Ryan Clements says
Joe, just watched we you on top of the top of the Empire State Building. That takes a serious pair to do get that shot. Third times a charm I guess. Great site!!!!!
Awesome site and looking forward to checking out the sites of the photogs.
“penis fish” that made me shudder.
Ghene Snowdon says
Wicked! Thank our for such an amazing website.
I wouldn’t be allowed to moan about bridezillas again compared to being hunted with bows and arrows.
Thanks for the link to the site. We rarely get glimpses of the world these photographers live in and the dangers they face. They are simply amazing. Thank you for sharing some of their stories.