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Found Favorites: Bringing the Past to Present

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Survival training includes learning to use mirrors to signal aircraft. Reno, Nevada, January 1965.

With 2013 being the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society, it was high time for us do something fun and magical with our photographic archive. And even after publishing 632 archival photographs on National Geographic’s “Found” Tumblr, working on the edit is still my favorite part of the week.

I look for a variety of images that range in date from the late 1800s to the 1990s. It’s my job to search through thousands of digitized images to find just the right formula to surprise, inspire, or intrigue you.

Here are some of my all-time favorites:

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A 1936 color photograph shot in Berlin on Agfacolor, a German film. Photograph by Hans Hildenbrand

One of the things that makes the National Geographic archive so special is our large collection of Autochromes—photographs that were shot using early color plate techniques. This photo was shot on Agfacolor, another early color film that was developed by the Germans. I love the brightness of the woman’s swimsuit and her strong body language. The blurred background also allows us to focus more on her instead of the background, which appears more impressionistic.

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A raft rests peacefully on Switzerland’s Lake Thun, September 1985. Photograph by Jodi Cobb

This photograph is rather simplistic yet so dreamy. It’s rare that you see a cloud completely obscuring the horizon in such a seamless way.

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A Las Vegas hotel’s neon lights are reflected on a parked car, December 1992. Photograph by Chris Johns

A little retro Vegas never hurt anyone. This is a classic shot that feels like it’s from a Hollywood film. I keep expecting to see Robert DeNiro or George Clooney somewhere in the frame.

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People strolling through a park in Finland during a wet May snowstorm, 1968. Photograph by George F. Mobley

Whoever thought it was a good time for a fun day in the park in Finland was dead wrong. It’s curious and fascinating to see this surreal scene of a snowstorm dampening a May outing. The almost teal-colored scene contrasts well with the brightness of the balloons.

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Victoria amazonica water lilies can reach 20 feet in circumference and support up to 300 pounds each. Perching children atop the massive leaves was all the rage in water gardens of the time. Salem, North Carolina, c. 1892. Photograph by Frank Hege

I have a confession to make. I’m obsessed with pictures of lily pads. This photograph of children (and a pup) sitting on giant water lilies is wonderfully bizarre. You can tell by the blur around their faces that no one in this picture was able to sit still for very long.

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Men stand beside a volcano’s crater eighteen months after an eruption on Tristan da Cunha Island, 1964. Photograph by James P. Blair

This photograph called out to me because it has just the right amount of mystery. It’s almost as if the men are looking at something in the crater below that is out of sight to us. I also like how you can see the sea in the distance, making this volcanic island seem so desolate.

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A piece of wood shot from a cannon shows the damage done by tornadoes. Lubbock, Texas, June 1987. Photograph by Chris Johns

This is a strange shot, to be sure. To me, there is something so forceful and abstract about it. It’s rare to see an “explosion” like this as it’s actually happening. We are brought right into the action and can almost feel the impact.

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A woman stands before limestone cliffs in the Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec, September 1934. Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart

I can’t decide if this image is more like an Andrew Wyeth painting or an Alfred Hitchcock film, but my best guess is that it’s a little bit of both. This woman is placed perfectly in the landscape in a way that communicates how immense the cliffs and road are around her.

Janna Dotschkal curates the National Geographic Found Tumblr. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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From the Archives

Look through a curated collection of historical photos from our archives on National Geographic's Found Tumblr.


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