Photograph by Jodi Cobb
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Ella Eronen, Helsinki, Finland, 1980.
Photograph by Jodi Cobb

Eight Photos That Inspire Thanks at National Geographic

In honor of Thanksgiving, I asked eight National Geographic magazine staff members to share a photograph they’re thankful for having seen. Each co-worker I talked to has been on staff for more than 30 years, and has seen and worked on a great number of stories.

From this legacy, I was curious to see what images remained with them today. My esteemed colleagues shared photographs that they found inspiring, that represented technological feats, and that served as catalysts for lifelong passions and careers.

I, myself, am extremely thankful to have worked alongside so many incredible people who have given so much to this magazine—many of whom are leaving this year. I am thankful for the wealth of knowledge they have contributed and thankful for the images that survive as reminders of their work.—Jessie Wender, Senior Photo Editor

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A thunderstorm halts haying as two farmers watch the sky, 2003. Photograph by Jim Richardson

Dennis Dimick, Executive Editor, Environment
Years at National Geographic: 35

This picture by Jim Richardson of two Nebraska farmers facing an oncoming storm was the opening scene for a May 2004 story called “Change of Heartland: The Great Plains.” We explored the idea that people in this beautiful but mostly dry region have now come to live and work with the land on its rhythms and terms and not ours. Nearly a century ago we plowed down the grasslands on this semiarid prairie to raise wheat. The rains and crops failed, and the soil blew away in the Dust Bowl.

Both Jim and I spent our youths on farms. He grew up near Belleville, Kansas, and I grew up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and we’ve collaborated on stories about food and agriculture for nearly a quarter century. This image speaks to me about the life we knew as young people and of the enduring challenges farmers face daily.

This picture also speaks to the idea that it’s important to stand up and face your challenges, to face the future. That’s what farmers do every day, and that’s what each of us can do every day— to show up, to stand up and be counted, and to make a difference.

This picture also makes me thankful, for I have been given a wonderful opportunity over the past 35 years as an editor at National Geographic to work with awesome photographers like Jim Richardson and many others to tell beautiful and relevant stories about our world.

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A student works at the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Jerusalem, 1927. Photograph by Maynard Owen Williams

Betty Clayman-DeAtley, Senior Designer, Special Projects
Years at National Geographic: 43

As one of six children, I was used to chaos, always searching for a calm, quiet moment but rarely succeeding. Each year my mother had a quest—to find her modern-day John Singer Sargent (yes, I’m from Boston) to photograph her wild bunch. It was through these photographs that she could see her children as both well behaved and reserved.

One day in the early sixties we were scrubbed and dressed in our Sunday best, then strategically placed in the Ford woodie station wagon and driven into the city to the studio of Marie Cosindas. It was quite an event. She talked with us, tried several approaches to getting just the right shot—but it was not working. Then she let us be, observing our behavior, trying to understand us, getting to know us, and after a while she began to shoot. The end results were magnificently formatted and lit black-and-white portraits.

Thus began my love and passion for black-and-white photography. Soon after my arrival at National Geographic in 1972 I came across this photo by Maynard Owen Williams, taken in 1926 in Jerusalem. Upon seeing this image I realized I had, at long last, found my calm, quiet moment—and realized that calm can be had at any time. I have extreme respect and admiration for those who have the patience to observe and record human behavior. How fortunate that I have spent the past 43 years in the presence of many remarkable photographers. My heartfelt thanks to you all for the joy you have brought me.

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Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson attend a dedication ceremony at the National Geographic Society, 1963. Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart

Juan José Valdés, The Geographer for National Geographic
Years at National Geographic: 39

I can honestly say that maps have backdropped the expanse of my life—but none more so than those published by National Geographic. My first introduction came in the form of a page map, with one in particular becoming my first English primer. A month after the opening of the National Geographic headquarters building in 1964, I toured Explorers Hall with my fourth-grade class, where to my amazement I came upon the newly erected 11-foot-wide “political globe.” Other than the photograph in the May 1964 National Geographic, I possess no picture of that globe. But the impression left by that encounter, and what it would eventually lead to, has remained with me throughout my nearly 40-year career as a National Geographic cartographer.

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A lion walks against the wind in Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa, 1996. Photograph by Chris Johns

Gus Platis, Senior Graphics Editor
Years at National Geographic: 42

No doubt about it, this photograph has been my favorite from the moment I first saw it 20 years ago, at a time when I was going through some unprecedented difficulties in my life, both personal and professional. The picture says everything we need to know about persevering through adversities, something I had to do. I had no choice; giving in was not an option. I had been told that by people around me, but I am glad I had a picture to remind me of that fact—then, and also now that the problems are over. Like the lion, I did not let obstacles prevent me from reaching my goal.

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Still life of pears inside a windowsill in Moscow’s National Hotel, 1983. Photograph by Sam Abell

Mary McPeak, Photographic Research Editor
Years at National Geographic: 43

I have always loved Sam Abell’s image of pears ripening on a hotel windowsill overlooking Red Square in Moscow, published in our 1986 Tolstoy story. I appreciate the composition, the light, and the quiet it evokes. It looks artless, but is not. Sam was very patient as he spent hours on the composition and waited for the late afternoon light and a breeze, which lifted the lace curtain slightly. I am constantly surrounded by top-level photography, but this is one of my favorites. It taught me patience and to see beauty in the ordinary.

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A bifocal view captures the robot Searover in little-explored waters, Suruga Bay, Honshu Island, Japan, 1990. Photograph by David Doubilet

Kenji Yamaguchi, Photo Engineering
Years at National Geographic: 32

This is one of my favorite photos. David Doubilet approached me with a challenging situation—to capture what was happening underwater with a “remotely operated vehicle” for a story about Suruga Bay while also capturing beautiful Mount Fuji in the background. For several weeks, I thought and worked on ways to make this possible—a very complex and precise double-exposure using different lenses. This was in 1990, while shooting film and without Photoshop. We ended up creating a physical mask from unexposed developed slide film that covered half the film in the back of the camera, so for the first underwater exposures, when the shutter opened, only the bottom half was exposed. Then we rewound the film back into the canister and later exposed the top portion, this time for Mount Fuji.

I love this image and project specifically because I think this kind of shows you what we’re capable of in the camera shop. I started at National Geographic as a camera repair technician and moved up over the years. We do more than camera-trap systems; we do all kinds of modifications for camera and lens—these are the things that really make this place special. We try to make possible what people think is impossible, using technology to make photographers’ visions a reality—to show readers what they couldn’t see otherwise. And I’m especially thankful for my team. Over the years, everyone in the shop has made so much innovation and exploration possible.

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Koko the gorilla holds a kitten,1985. Photograph by Ronald Cohn

Cinde Reichard, Design Administration
Years at National Geographic: 32

This is the first image I remember making a big impact on me after I started working at the National Geographic Society in 1984. It seemed impossible that a huge gorilla could be so gentle and bond with a tiny kitten. I was fascinated and wanted to know how it was possible. It was in this magazine that I read about Koko being taught sign language and communicating with her caretaker and actually naming the kitten All Ball. This was the first time I read about interspecies communication. Growing up I was heartbroken when I found out people and animals don’t really sing and dance together like they do in beloved Disney movies, but this story made me realize that communication between the two really was possible. I’m extremely thankful for the platform National Geographic magazine gives to the talented, passionate people who dedicate their hearts and souls to animals and sharing information about them with the world.

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Ella Eronen, Helsinki, Finland, 1980. Photograph by Jodi Cobb

Cathy Newman, Editor at Large
Years at National Geographic: 37

National Geographic has many extraordinary women photographers. (I know, I know. Must we distinguish between men and women? Can’t we just say photographer!) Three I’ve worked with immediately come to mind—Lynn Johnson, Karen Kasmauski, and Amy Toensing—but Jodi Cobb (with whom I’ve collaborated on two stories: “The Enigma of Beauty” and “Vanishing Venice”) was the true pioneer.

Jodi has the rare ability to capture irony in an image. But most of all, her photographs twist the heart and speak to the blurred line between tears and laughter in life.

This is a photograph I love so much that it hangs in my library. It’s one of Jodi’s early photographs for the magazine, and I adore it—among other reasons—because it is the pictorial equivalent of a short story that could have been written by Colette.

It was taken on assignment for a story on Helsinki and the subject—Ella Eronen, one of Finland’s most beloved actresses—greeted Jodi at the door and told her to wait while she put on the costume of “Madame,” an actress who felt lost unless she had a role to play. It was her most famous role, and that’s the portrait we see hanging on the wall. Eronen moved around and posed with great drama until finally, needing to catch a breath, she sat down and lifted a mirror to check her makeup.

That was when Jodi snapped the frame—and captured a small, sharp narrative of age seeking to recapture youth. It’s all there in one image. The gold clock relentlessly ticking. The portrait of her younger self, gazing down, perhaps, with gentle irony. And the mirror reflecting—what? Vanity, surely. But also, I think, wistful longing.

It is the human condition at its most poignant. My gratitude is centered on the privilege of having worked alongside colleagues with such exquisite sensibility.