The Nat Geo archive frames women’s lives in photos

Tens of millions of images collected since 1888 reflect the practices and prejudices of a changing world.

TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: ERIKA LARSEN (2014, MONTANA); DIANA MARKOSIAN (2014, MEXICO); L. GAUTHIER (1919, MARQUESAS ISLANDS); CIRIL JAZBEC (2016, KENYA); ERIKA LARSEN (2016, ALASKA); ROBIN HAMMOND (2016, ENGLAND). BOTTOM: ZACKARY CANEPARI (2018, MICHIGAN); WILLIAM ALBERT ALLARD (1994, SICILY); THOMAS J. ABERCROMBIE (1968, AFGHANISTAN); ROBERT B. GOODMAN (1960, ENGLAND); UNKNOWN (PRE-1910, EGYPT); B. ANTHONY STEWART (PRE-1942, CALIFORNIA)
This story is part of our November 2019 special issue of National Geographic magazine, “Women: A Century of Change.” Read more stories here.

In the early 20th century the magazine’s images—shaped by the technical limitations of photography then and a very Western colonialist point of view—often portrayed women as exotic beauties, posed in their local costumes or bare-breasted. That reflects who was behind the lens in those days: mostly white men. As camera technology evolved, our images of women became more active, but still focused heavily on traditional archetypes: wives, sisters, mothers. It wasn’t until World War II that women turned up in more roles: boosting the war effort by working in industry, hospitals, the military. Postwar, the magazine reverted to more domesticated views; women smiled their way through a few more decades until the 1970s and the rise of photography that captured

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