photograph by LYNSEY ADDARIO, National Geographic
photograph by LYNSEY ADDARIO, National Geographic
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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

Sometimes our photographers do more than take images—they also help.

In Afghanistan on a story about maternal mortality, Lynsey Addario came across these two women on the road. Photographing them against a stark background, Addario was struck that they were out alone.

It turns out one was in labor.

“We offered to take them to the hospital, but they said they needed the husband's permission," Addario told my colleague David Beard. Addario and her guide went, got the husband's permission, returned, then drove the woman to a hospital, where the baby was delivered.

It was a happy counterpoint to a grim assignment. “So many women,” Addario said, “die in Afghanistan because they have no access” to medical attention.

While journalists are cautioned in school not to get involved in the story, some help in different ways. Through his Photo Ark, Joel Sartore has catalogued more than 9,800 vulnerable animals, raising awareness about the massive decline of species. Wildlife filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert not only have photographed big cats in Africa, but started an initiative to buy conservation land and have persuaded some Masai people not to hunt them.

In just a few minutes, one act of kindness paid off for Australian photographer Matthew Abbott. He told us earlier this month that he was helping move trash bins away from fire-threatened homes in Australia when he spotted a frightened kangaroo, bouncing by the flames, searching for safety.

His good deed put him in a perfect position for an iconic image.

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Your Instagram photo of the day

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What is beauty? And why do we care? Photographer Hannah Reyes Morales spent much of the past year exploring beauty standards affecting women—and meeting women who are seeking to redefine them. “In runways, hair salons, basketball courts, and homes, I spoke to women about what beauty means to them,” Reyes Morales said. Above, Ami McClure braids her daughters’ hair in their home in New Jersey while the twins, Ava (left) and Alexis fix their dolls’ hair. The McClure twins became popular on YouTube and now have a beauty industry career with a focus on natural hair. They have two million Instagram followers.

Subscribers can read: The idea of beauty is always shifting. Today it’s more inclusive than ever.

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Today in a minute

Bad photo crop: The removal of a Ugandan climate activist from an Associated Press photo that included Greta Thunberg and three other white activists prompted accusations of racial insensitivity. The AP called the edit “a terrible mistake,” criticized its initial response to the issue, and apologized to activist Vanessa Nakate. Its leadership held meetings with staff and pledged to expand diversity training, NBC News reported. Everybody at AP—not just members of underrepresented groups—must be sensitive to issues of inclusion, AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said.

Firefall: For a time each February, for just a few minutes when the clouds don’t block the view, the setting sun’s rays hit Yosemite’s Horsetail Fall in such a way that it appears the descending water is fire. But how do you capture that image? “iPhones are good for many things, but for this one, I think it’s best to either take a regular camera, something with a zoom lens, or just go and enjoy the sight,” photographer Raul Roa tells the Los Angeles Times. “Fiddling with an iPhone exposure and zoom while the falls ‘catch fire’ is not what you want to be doing during a bucket-list, rare event like this one.”

Opening Saturday: An extraordinary collection of work from an African American photo collective that began in New York in 1963. "What a spectacular show," writes historian John Edwin Mason of the exhibit, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. "Intimacy, power, and grace in the photos. Deeply researched curation that changes how we see American photography." Working Together: Louis Draper & the Kamoinge Workshop also will travel to the Whitney Museum, the Getty Museum, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

A national portrait: Actress Mia Wasikowska with a replica leg. Artist Jaya Suartika and his tattoos. Megan Wilding as an avenging Aboriginal superhero. These are among the subjects in a new annual portrait competition by the Australia National Portrait Gallery. The winner will be chosen on March 5, and the finalists will be exhibited to the public the following day, the Guardian reports.

The big takeaway

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Why birds matter: Photographer Joel Sartore’s work graced this 2018 essay (subscribers only) on the importance of birds. The story was just updated with news that the Interior Department will not prosecute companies that accidentally kill birds, even on a massive scale. Essayist Jonathan Franzen admitted he didn’t really notice birds until his mid-40s, even this majestic blue crowned pigeon (above). These days, Franzen is a changed man. “If you could see every bird in the world,” he wrote, “you’d see the whole world."

Photo tip of the week

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Come back Monday for Debra Adams Simmons on the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.

One last glimpse

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Fruits for sale: This photograph in our archives from 1923, of a Cairo vendor, is a beautiful example of the autochrome process, says Nat Geo’s senior photo archivist Sara Manco. That was one of the earliest ways to make color photographs. “I love how the bright colors of the fruit stand out against the neutral baskets and fabric to the right of the frame,” Manco says. “This image shows just how well the autochromes could produce color in photography, a marvel in the early twentieth century. And the towers of fruit are just as enticing then as they would be today."

Correction: In last week’s newsletter, we had the incorrect title for photographer Ben Brody’s fascinating book on his work as a military photographer. It is Attention Servicemember.
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading!