Culture & ExplorationPicture Stories

12 Photographers Explain Why Storytelling Needs a New Look

We asked some of our female photographers about the importance of diversity in storytelling. Here's what they said.

Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva, National Geographic Creative
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Wearing a curtain and a cardboard crown, Kristina Khudi becomes the “tundra princess” in the Nenets camp near the Kara Sea. The eight-year-old says her happiest time is summer, when a helicopter sent by Gazprom and the regional government brings her and other kids home from school to their migrating families. In fall, when the chopper returns, some kids hide in the tundra.
Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva, National Geographic Creative

Since 1888, National Geographic has been sharing the world with its readers, but stories are shaped by those doing the telling—and historically those perspectives have been white and male.

Editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg explains the publication’s need for self-assessment in a recent issue on race, “It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past. But when we decided to devote our April magazine to the topic of race, we thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others.” To do that, National Geographic asked a preeminent historian to survey its coverage.

This research, which spotlighted numerous areas for growth, is leading to quantifiable change. In 2017, 47 percent of grants from the National Geographic Society were awarded to women, according to Cheryl Zook, Director of National Geographic Society's Expand the Field initiative; Courtney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks, pledged to achieve gender parity by 2020; and the organization’s roster of photographers is shifting. “It is refreshing, enriching, and often surprising to see things from a different perspective than your own,” says Sarah Leen, Director of Photography for National Geographic magazine.

Today, over a century after the magazine published its first photographs taken by a woman, National Geographic’s new voices share their thoughts on why diversity in storytelling is crucial, how they want the world to feel when looking at their pictures, and what aspiring photographers should know.

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Tasneem Alsultan

"Photography is a tool to repudiate stereotypes and explore social issues, especially gender-related ones. I am a Saudi woman, and the intimate narrations in my community are not available to others, so I decided to discover and expose them through my photos... Most importantly, I want each image to be evoking questions in the viewers mind that would make them intrigued to learn more." See more of Alsultan's photos in "Enter the Spectacular World of Saudi Weddings."

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Kirsten Luce

"Don’t go into a story with an inflexible idea of what you will find. Spend time and listen to your subjects and try to get to the truth, not just what you or your editor assumed that you’d find. There is value in the quieter stories, they can be just as important and informative as the dramatic ones." See more of Luce's photos in "How Fireflies Are Keeping This Tiny Mexican Town Alive."

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Hannah Reyes-Morales

"I grew up being scared that my perspective was not the right perspective, cautious that everything I knew and photographed was less valid. When I began studying photography, none of the photographers I was studying looked like me... But my hope and my vision for the work that I wanted to do were greater than those fears and those questions... I also learned that there was value in seeing the world from a different vantage point—that my ideas did not have to echo the narratives that persisted before me." See more of Reyes Morales' work in "Inside the Controversial World of Slum Tourism".

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Rena Effendi

"I hope that the people who see my photographs would feel connected to the humanity of the people I photograph, and that they become more curious about the world." See more of Effendi's work in "In the Footsteps of Gandhi."

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NEWSHA TAVAKOLIAN

"For me, when it comes to inspiration, gender does not play an important role. As a young woman in Iran, I found inspiration from all my colleagues and my surroundings. I made my world a collage, created by different inspirations coming from different people. The core of photography is sensitivity and honesty towards your subject and yourself." See more of Tavakolian's work in "Iran’s Tarnished Gem."

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Luján Agusti

"To bet on different ways of photographing is to open our minds and stop seeing the world in one way, as a type of person tells us, but to open ourselves to the idea that many realities and many ways of seeing things coexist at the same time." See more of Agusti's work in "Scenes From a Migration Crisis—On Both Sides of the Border."

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Dina Litovsky

"When looking for the uncanny in the modern and the familiar, my photos ask more questions than give answers and I hope that communicates to the viewer." See more of Litovsky's work in "Behind the Scenes at the Glamorous Westminster Dog Show."

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Nina Robinson

"The type of work I do aims to breaks down the visual prejudices about the elderly, and people of color and class. [This] opens the discussion of perception and how much of ourselves is driving the narrative because of our own racial and socioeconomic bias." See more of Robinson's work in "Why Historically Black Colleges Are Enjoying a Renaissance."

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Daniella Zalcman

"Storytelling is such a crucial part of our existence. It’s how we share, it’s how we learn, it’s how we reconstruct our own memories... It takes hard work and empathy to gain access to the intimacy of another person’s stories, and I think sometimes we forget what an honor that is." See more of Zalcman's work in "Pictured With Their Past, Survivors of Canada’s ‘Cultural Genocide’ Speak Out."

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Katie Orlinsky

"I think finding mentors and seeking out advice from people you admire and respect is very important. But first and foremost, you need to trust and listen to yourself." See more of Orlinsky's work in "Climate Change Is Rerouting World-Famous Sled Dog Race."

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Michaela Skovranova

"I hope people feel enchanted by the natural world [when they look at my photos]. I wish to bring a sense of wonder and build natural curiosity. Nature is fascinating and complex and incredibly powerful. Through my work, I hope people find their own connections to our environment." See more of Skovranova's work in "See 'Underwater Snowstorm' of Coral Reproducing."