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Pictures We Love: Beauty, Hope, and Survival

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Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

National Geographic’s Proof blog invited the photography and design teams of National Geographic magazine to look back through the hundreds of photographs from the over 75 stories published in 2013 and select one photo that spoke to their heart, intrigued them, inspired awe, made them smile—in short, to choose their favorite photo from this past year. Over the next several days we’ll bring you a round-up of the breathtaking, the touching, the extraordinary, the imperfect, and the beautiful.

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Visions on Earth, October 2013 Photograph by Abelardo Morell

To take the all too familiar and to show it in an entirely fresh way that has the power to astonish and delight is a true gift. For a story called “Visions on Earth,” published in our October 125th anniversary issue, photographer Abelardo Morell worked his magic to show us the iconic landscapes of U.S. National Parks in a way we had never seen them before.

Using a portable camera obscura he calls a tent camera, Morell made this image of Old Faithful while it was erupting. The image is essentially being projected onto the gravelly ground through a lens on top of the tent camera and being re-photographed. It is actually a simple antique process, though one that’s complicated to explain.

The results took my breath away.

Old Faithful has been photographed since practically the invention of photography and by millions of tourists and professionals ever since. This image is a singularity; it is the captured moment of a timeless event, using an age-old technique to bring you something old yet new, magical, inexplicable, and beautiful.

I have seen a lot of images from Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, but nothing like Abelardo Morell’s. The commonplace becomes an abstract collage yet the geyser still clearly dominates the landscape. Photography is all about gear and technique, yet it’s nothing without vision. Morell has taken the simple physics of the tenth-century camera obscura and brought it into the 21st century.
National Geographic‘s first image of Old Faithful appeared in the June 1912 issue with this caption: “In the 40 years that this geyser has been known to the white man, it has never failed to eject its graceful column of water at intervals of 65 minutes.” One hundred years later Morell captured the wonder of it all with his astute, graceful vision.

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Soccer Joy, February 2013 Photograph by Jessica Hilltout

I fell in love, on the opening spread, with the photo story on soccer in Africa by Jessica Hilltout. Young Orlando’s face, full of determination as he clutched his homemade soccer ball, reminded me of my own children, who I coached half a world away in suburban Virginia. Both of my boys struck similar poses for our youth soccer team photos—only they wore crisp blue jerseys and held perfect, regulation-size balls. All of their faces, Orlando’s and my two boys’, speak to their love of the game, but their means of expressing it are worlds apart.
View photograph here.

It is Jessica’s photo of the mini-goal in Burkina Faso that fascinates me the most, however, as it speaks to both the universal nature of the game as well as to the excess we take for granted here in the west. Can one enjoy this most special and universal of games playing on an overgrown field with a makeshift goal of sticks and cloth? Absolutely, these pictures say, and perhaps your enjoyment is even greater because by literally building your soccer match with your own hands you invest a bit more heart and soul in the process. I don’t see a broken-down goal when I look at this picture; rather I see the most pristine of altars to the game that lets us all be children again.

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Living With Lions, August 2013 Photograph by Brent Stirton

John Baxter, Senior Design Editor

This picture delivers exactly what I’ve come to expect from National Geographic. We asked Brent Stirton to go off to a distant place and come back with a story about the cost that can arise from humans and lions living near each other. We expected him, like all the great photographers we work with, to bring back a story told economically, convincingly, and memorably. A man lost both arms in a lion attack and now depends on others to bathe him. Brent’s image is touching, shocking, intriguing—and you just can’t wait to read about it.

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The Power of Photography, October 2013 Photograph by Roland Reed

It’s probably not well known but one of the perks you get working here at the Geographic is that you can choose two photographs and have them framed for your office. I took this offer very seriously when I first started working here almost seven years ago. I thought of it kind of like a tattoo—you better like what you get because you’re going to be stuck with it. So naturally, it took me almost three years before I finally settled on my first selection.

The photograph I had printed back then is the same one that appears on the contents page of National Geographic‘s October issue on photography: the portrait of an Ojibwa woman taken by Roland Reed in 1907.

It is a lovely and quiet image of a woman standing in profile wrapped in a blanket. There’s something about it that I find calming and introspective, and for me it’s a photograph that is broken down to its simplest and most beautiful elements.

I’m still happy with the choice and, if you’re wondering, I still haven’t chosen my second print.

View these photographs and more in our interactive Year in Review.

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