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Pictures We Love: Mystery and Memory

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Iris Lee Gay Jordan, 92, one of the few remaining children of veterans of the Civil War—appears as she might have had she lived in the 1860s. The photographs are tintypes, made on a chemical-coated wet plate with a lens manufactured in 1862.

At National Geographic, photography is what holds our stories together and what makes them shine. It’s what we do the best and love the most. Our photo editors work with thousands of images every year (if not every day) and so we asked each of them—editors from National Geographic MagazineNational Geographic Magazine, News, Traveler, Your Shot, and Proof—to share one picture that stood out for them in 2014. We didn’t ask them to talk about the “best” photo, but the one that resonated with them the most. Over the coming days, we’ll bring you their personal reflections and share the heart of what we’ve been up to this year.

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A view from the back of the Matvei Mudrov medical train as it stops to offer care in the tiny Siberian village of Kenay. “Train for the Forgotten,” June 2014 Photograph by William Daniels

Adrian Coakley, Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

My favorite picture of 2014 comes from the June National Geographic magazine story “Train For the Forgotten” by photographer William Daniels. The photo used in the opening spread makes the story for me. It was shot from the window of the Matvei Mudrov medical train, which visits the ailing and sick in the remote and cold Siberian countryside.

This image of a mother and child walking toward the train encapsulates the entire story: You get an immediate sense of the vast, cold frontier of Siberia from inside a warm and inviting train.

The outer frame of the train’s window frames the horizontal image, making it look almost like an old glass plate positive. Dirt and snow on the window add to the gritty look. The image also reveals train tracks in the foreground that vanish into the distance. All of these compositional elements come together to set the tone for the rest of this story about tough and hardy people getting a helping hand to survive in the isolated north of Siberia. It’s wonderful when an image can convey so much in one frame.

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Iris Lee Gay Jordan, 92, one of the few remaining children of a Civil War veteran—appears as she might have had she lived in the 1860s. The photographs are tintypes, made on a chemical-coated wet plate with a lens manufactured in 1862. “Children of Civil War Veterans Still Walk Among Us” Photograph by Peter Essick

Iris Lee Gay Jordan is one of 11 surviving daughters of Southern soldiers from the Civil War (there are 35 children remaining in all). She was nine when her father died in 1931. To illustrate this concept, we wanted to create a visual connection from the past to the present. Peter Essick photographed Iris and our other subject for the story, Fred Upham, using tintypes, which was a popular photographic medium during the Civil War. For these portraits, Essick used natural light and a vintage lens from 1862.

I was so excited when I received these images. It was the perfect way to connect the subjects to their heritage. When I look at this photo of Iris, I think of the Queen of England. I love the regality of her hat and the pins on her blazer. You can see the details in her face, like the glint in her eye, but the soft and ethereal look of the tintype leaves room for whimsy and mystery. It’s kind of like staring at a memory right in front of you.

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Villagers stand on an uprooted tree as they fish in Arom Baria, near Ishurdi in Bangladesh. “Of River and Lost Lands” Photograph by Sarker Protick

When I look at this photo, I feel like I am traveling through a sort of dreamscape and have just stumbled upon these fishermen through the misty haze. It’s ethereal and mysterious and alluring. But beyond that, what makes this photo last is that it’s part of a deeper story. Sarker Protick’s photo essay on riverbank erosion in Bangladesh touched me because it highlighted a community whose land is continually being reclaimed by the river, yet they stay. Their fields and schools are swallowed, but they remain because it is their home. The duality of love and loss exhibited in these images reminds me of what it means to be human.

Browse more of our favorite images from 2014 in these related “Pictures We Love” posts:

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