News Column

Depth of field: Women of vision

June 20, 2014

By Paul Weideman, The Santa Fe New Mexican

June 20--Eleven female photographers who contributed powerful stories to National Geographic magazine in the 21st century are honored in the new book Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment. It's basically the catalog for the exhibition of the same name, which opened at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., in October 2013 and hangs at the Levine Center for the Arts' Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, North Carolina, through July 20.

The show features the work of 99 photographs culled from various assignments as well as a picture of the photojournalists. The exhibition was curated by National Geographic's senior photo editor, Elizabeth Cheng Krist, who is in Santa Fe at the end of June to teach The Project Workshop, a special offering for the 25th-anniversary season of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. She also offers a free lecture on June 30.

Last year, Krist was a juror on one of the workshops' semiannual photography contests. One juror for the next contest, with water as its theme, is a colleague: Sarah Leen, National Geographic's director of photography. (The deadline for entries is Sept. 17; see details at

The Women of Vision honorees include Lynsey Addario, who has covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; Erika Larsen, who lived with the Sami people in the Arctic Circle to tell their story; Kitra Cahana, who shot a celebrated 2011 magazine piece on teenage brains; Beverly Joubert, photographer of African wildlife for 30 years; and the veteran Jodi Cobb, whose portfolio includes stories on slavery, musicians, geisha culture, and the lives of women in Saudi Arabia.

Pasatiempo: This project-oriented course is a new one for Santa Fe Workshops, right? Who will your students be?

Elizabeth Cheng Krist: It's new, but it's not. It's basically a course that Sam Abell did for many years. We're looking for people who have been working on long-term projects, personal projects, or projects for clients, or who have been commissioned, as long as they have some depth. They should have a pretty substantial body of work, and maybe they want some help shaping it or trying to understand how to bring out the heart of the project and streamline it and adapt it for different media. We're looking for photographers who have a body of work and would like to be able to edit it with our help and guidance, but also with feedback and response from their peers.

Pasa: Have you been to Santa Fe before?

Krist: I have. I came once to teach a workshop with a photographer when they were bringing in editor-photographer teams at the Photographic Workshops, and I also took a workshop on audio.

Pasa: In Women of Vision, you and Kathryn Keane, the magazine's vice president of exhibitions, sometimes subverted the original photo editors' choices, didn't you?

Krist: It was just fun, because the photographers had some images that they loved that their photo editors did not want to use. They'd bring out these secret favorites, and occasionally one would be good enough that we could include it in the exhibition. One thing we were so excited about was that we got all 11 women to come for a live event at the opening. Some had never met before.

Pasa: You'd think they would hang out at the press club or something.

Krist: They can be based in Istanbul or London or somewhere in Africa. But I will say that we are one of the few publications in the world that does bring the photographer in for final edits. Even though we do a lot of editing remotely with screen sharing and Skype and all that, we still like it when the photographer can come present the show to the editor herself.

Pasa: Do you work with photographers before and during assignments? Last year, Nathan Benn told me they used to send him out with 300 rolls of Kodachrome or Ektachrome and $10,000 in traveler's checks, and when he got to the place, he'd have to figure out himself where the story was.

Krist: Those were the old days. I remember Chris Johns said something like that, too. When he went to do his story on the African rift [which resulted in the book Valley of Life: Africa's Great Rift], they basically sent him out for like six months and said, "OK, bring back a story." Now we do tons of research before they go. We really try to have a good sense of the story mapped out as far as you can until the person gets there and encounters the reality on the field. You want to give them a strong enough grounding so they know what they're looking for.

Pasa: How did National Geographic weather the digital revolution?

Krist: We didn't really convert here until 2005. The editors didn't feel the quality of reproducing digital files was strong enough until that point. Even now, occasionally someone will still shoot medium-format film.

Pasa: What do you look for in a photographer at the magazine?

Krist: We have needs for many different kinds of photographers, but, for almost all, you want someone with enough experience in the field that they really understand how to put together a story -- how to put together a narrative that not only reveals the information you need, the story arc -- but you also want each image to be stunning. These are people who have an incredibly strong visual instinct. If you can convey emotion and show readers something they haven't seen before, that is very valuable.

Pasa: Women of Vision is no doubt inspiring girls to become serious photographers and work for National Geographic.

Krist: I hope so, because the proportions are still not equal, and the importance is that if you have more women, you're more likely to get in-depth coverage on issues like maternal mortality or assault in the military.

Pasa: Several of these featured photojournalists have been sent to dangerous places. That former domain of male photographers at the magazine has changed.

Krist: That was one thing I thought was a really strong reason for being for the whole exhibition -- so that younger women especially could see that women had been so intrepid going not only into combat situations and illegal-slavery sites but places where there were epidemics, subzero temperatures, dangerous animals. Here they are, in some incredibly tough situations, and they were able to do some extraordinary work.


--Santa Fe Photographic Workshops lecture/slide-show

events 8 p.m. Mondays, Santa Fe Preparatory School, 1101 Camino de Cruz Blanca

--June 23: Paul Mobley, Arthur Meyerson, Bobbi Lane

--June 30: Gregory Heisler, Elizabeth Cheng Krist, Henry Horenstein, Brett Erickson

--July 7: Marco Grob, Syl Arena, Jennifer Spelman, Eddie Soloway, Josh Withers

--July 14: Allen Birnbach, Brenda Tharp, Laurie Klein, Rick Allred, Kate Breakey, Julieanne Kost

--July 21: Michael Karsh, Douglas Beasley, John Weiss, Susan Burnstine, Norm Clasen & Jennifer Clasen, Will Van Beckum

--July 28: Andrew Southam, Elizabeth Opalenik, Jennifer Spelman, Seth Resnick, Phil Toledano, Tony Corbell

--Aug. 4: David Johnson, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Just Loomis, Pei Ketron, Rick Allred, Bob Sacha

--No charge; 983-1400, Ext. 111


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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