Fellows in Yellow: The Men of National Geographic

“The cover of National Geographic is an invitation. ‘Come look,’ it says. ‘See what wonder the world contains.'”—Chris Johns, former Editor in Chief

The first cover photograph to appear along with the magazine’s classic yellow border was in September 1959, of a U.S. Navy fighter jet. Since then, the cover images have brought readers to every continent, to the ocean depths and into space as part of the magazine’s acclaimed storytelling. National Geographic’s new book, The Covers, continues this journey with backstories about the subjects and the photographers.

Over the coming weeks, we will comb through the over 600 illustrated covers to bring you gems that catch our eye in categories we are known for: people and culture, exploration, and animals. Last week, we looked at some of the classically cool women who’ve appeared on the cover. Today we turn our gaze towards the men.


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Top row, left to right:

June 1966. Profile of Queen’s Life Guard with gold chin strap and plumed helmet. Photograph by James P. Blair

February 1971. An Eskimo carries a fish spear and his daughter, wrapped in furs. Photograph by Guy Mary-Rousselière

May 1971. A pet Andean condor plays with its owner. Photograph by Libby McGahan

July 1972. This cover, the first on a yellow-bordered National Geographic to appear without any oak leaves, featured a story on the Islamic world that won its author, Thomas J. Abercrombie, an Overseas Press Club Award. “I just took his picture—one shot—and walked on to something else,” he recalled about that face in the crowd at Mecca, where in the early ’70s cameras were still frowned upon, making photography an often surreptitious endeavor. “I didn’t know him or talk to him. But his gaze is arresting and captures the fervor of Islam.”
Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie

Bottom row, left to right:

November 1979. Dressed for the desert, a Bella tribesman in Upper Volta (today’s Burkina Faso) combines old and new with flair. His stylish turban cools his head when the sun is high while those shades protect his eyes from the solar glare. He covers his mouth, however, for the same reason as do the Sahara’s Tuareg: Men, not women, are traditionally veiled, believing it wards off evil spirits. Photograph by Georg Gerster

October 1983. The winner of a Wodaabe beauty contest preens for the camera. He—yes, he—must have impressed the judges, especially the women, with his attractively rolling eyes. Most of the year the nomadic Wodaabe drove their zebu cattle across the dusty Sahel of Niger, and the men looked suitably lean, mean, and thoroughly masculine to Carol Beckwith, who lived with the tribe for 18 months. Yet whenever the rains broke it was festival time, and the herdsmen engaged in a week-long marathon of painting, primping, and dancing, each competing for various prizes. This beauty contest winner’s equally charming cousin offered to make Beckwith his second wife and inquired about the number of cattle he should offer her Boston-based father. She politely declined. Photograph by Carol Beckwith

September 1986. Badge of the true Arctic explorer, a face mask encrusted with ice graces Brent Boddy’s handsome features during a historic 1986 trek to the North Pole. Led by Will Steger, the four men, one woman, and 21 dogs composed the first confirmed expedition to reach 90 degrees north without resupply of any sort. Boddy was also one of the first two Canadians ever to set foot on the fabled spot. Photograph by Jim Brandenburg

June 1996. Bushfires engulfing untold acres of Strathburn Station only made Sam Abell’s weeklong visit to the sprawling cattle ranch all the more sweltering. Summer heat in the Cape York Peninsula—the far tip of Australia’s “tropic north”—was so scorching that even a dip in a billabong was tempting, despite the possibility that crocodiles might lurk beneath the surface. One young Aboriginal man plunged in anyway. He “smeared clay on his face, stared at me for a moment, then swam off,” Abell remembered. Photograph by Sam Abell


National Geographic’s new book The Covers: Iconic Photographs, Unforgettable Stories is available for purchase here.