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Pictures We Love: Feeding Our Families and Filling Our Souls

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If Isabella Bartol (far right) had her druthers, she’d eat a burger every day. Isabella, nine, prefers just ketchup on her cheeseburger; sister Betsy, four, puts everything on hers. At P. Terry’s Burger Stand in Austin, Texas, ''all natural'' burgers—made from cattle that never received hormones or antibiotics—cost only $2.45.

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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Hullamatou Ceesay, 31, is the mother of nine children. She commonly gets food from the local pantry called “Part of the Solution” and shares it with her sister Kadijatou Ceesay, 42, who is a single mother of eight children. “The New Face of Hunger,” August 2014 Photograph by Stephanie Sinclair

Coburn Dukehart, Senior Photo Editor, Proof

I had the privilege of interviewing photographers Amy Toensing, Kitra Cahana, and Stephanie Sinclair for Proof posts that accompanied the July magazine story “The New Face of Hunger.” The story explored what it looks like for individuals and families to be food insecure in urban, suburban, and rural areas of our country.

While many of the pictures shot for this story were both eye-opening and heartbreaking—showcasing the hidden health and mental stresses that go along with being food insecure—one image by Stephanie Sinclair stuck with me.

The picture shows the family of Hullamatou Ceesay, a Gambian immigrant who lives in the Bronx with her nine children. They are sitting on the floor with their cousins devouring two boxes of fried chicken that had been brought over by a neighbor. Ceesay normally relies on a food pantry, but had been unable to visit that week and the family had run out of food.

What’s obvious to me in this picture is how very hungry the children are. The floor is littered with bones, and every last bit of meat is being devoured. One girl is licking her fingers, and the suggestion that there are many more people out of the frame exemplifies the inadequacy of this small offering. In this one frame, Sinclair manages to encapsulate so much of the hidden problem of hunger in our country. The meal is greasy, unhealthy, and insufficient. Yet it is all they have.

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Nuns from the order of The Sisters of the Visitation in Beirut make marzipan using a traditional method that has been passed down through generations of sisters. “Travel 365,” November 27, 2014 Photograph by Ivor Prickett

When I first saw this picture, I was immediately charmed. We are allowed a glimpse into a private moment between women in their daily lives and begin to see a story unfold. At Nat Geo Travel, we aim to bring to our readers views and stories of people and places from around the world. As travelers, we see the exterior of buildings and churches, and are often left to wonder, “what daily life and activities are taking place behind the facades?”

Framed figures watch the activity from high above and the subtle expressions of the women begin to reveal an intimate story—eyes move side to side, smirks are forming on the women’s faces. All these details suggest how familiar the women are with one another’s idiosyncratic behaviors. As a traveler, I wonder, what does the marzipan taste like? Is it unique to the area? How old is this recipe handed down generation after generation? And though my daily life and culture are quite different, I immediately relate to this group, recalling similar familial moments. We are quickly reminded, though every culture is different, our human moments often bond us all.

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If Isabella Bartol (far right) had her druthers, she’d eat a burger every day. Isabella, nine, prefers just ketchup on her cheeseburger; sister Betsy, four, puts everything on hers. At P. Terry’s Burger Stand in Austin, Texas, “all natural” burgers—made from cattle that never received hormones or antibiotics—cost only $2.45. “Carnivore’s Dilemma,” November 2014 Photograph by Brian Finke

Todd James, Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

I have several favorite photos from 2014. Brian Finke shot many of them for our “Carnivore’s Dilemma” story, in the November issue. Brian’s photos work so well together it is hard for me to single out just one, but I probably spent more time staring at this one than the others. Here’s why:

Besides just being adorable, these two sisters, lost in their appreciation of their “all natural” burgers, perfectly convey an essential part of the visual narrative: Americans love their beef.

Like many of Brian’s photographs this one pushes us into the scene somehow. We aren’t looking at the photograph. We are inside the photograph, sitting at the table with Isabella and Betsy. And they seem completely unconcerned that we are there.

This image achieves several things that are not easy to pull off. It has all the charm and familiarity of our own family photos without being sentimental. It also has a visual refinement that is very particular but very natural.

Nothing feels forced or overly self-conscious. The result is that everything seems more real than real. Brian’s photos are distilled down to a visual essence that makes you want to savor them like a good meal. He serves up reality just the way he likes it—slightly rare and always satisfying.

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


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