WASHINGTON -- National Geographic, the magazine that showcases the world’s best photography, is recognizing the women behind many of those images with a landmark exhibit, “Women of Vision,” that opened Thursday.
Each of the 11 female photojournalists, selected for the extraordinary breadth and depth of their storytelling, has a space in the National Geographic Museum for her unique view, covering everything from Texas teenagers struggling with identity to child brides in Yemen to the indigenous Sami people, reindeer herders of Scandinavia.
The exhibit of 100 photographs, part of the magazine’s 125th anniversary celebration, opened to overflow crowds. At least part of the reaction, officials said, was due to tourists looking for alternatives to the shuttered Smithsonian museums, closed because of the partial government shutdown.
During an evening program in the National Geographic Society’s auditorium, all 11 photographers discussed their work in a session led by NBC News reporter Ann Curry.
The exhibit will be in Washington through March 9. It then begins a three-year, five-city tour, with the first stop March 29 at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C. The entire exhibition is sponsored by PNC Financial Group.
“Each photographer has a distinct eye,” said Kathryn Keane, the vice president of National Geographic Exhibitions. “In reviewing photos for the magazine’s 125th anniversary, we were struck by how many of the photographs were done by women photojournalists. They have all captured the world in a unique way.”
Weston Andress, the PNC regional president for western Carolina, said in an interview that the bank’s support for the arts was part of its connection to the communities it served, especially female customers.
“It’s definitely a fit for PNC,” he said.
Amy Toensing, one of the featured shooters, sat beneath a photograph of herself in the 19-foot square filled with her work and talked about some of the striking images.
Her photo “Women on Jersey Shore” pictures a group of older women splashing around the water, having a wonderful time.
“Why were people so obsessed with the Jersey shore?” Toensing said she wondered when she got the assignment, which was years before the reality show of the same name. Invited to swim with the women, with whom she became friendly, Toensing said, “That swim was where I got it – why they loved the Jersey shore. I rely a lot on my subjects to tell the story.”
In a photo from the other side of the world, she captured another sensation: the stress of a years-long drought on a family in the Australian Outback. A pretty young girl is pulling her blond hair back from her face, her eyes scrunched as the sand stings her eyes. In the mirror of the pickup, her father is pulling her brother out of the back, and everywhere there is a brown vastness.
“I wanted to put a human face on the drought,” said Toensing, who took the shot from inside the truck. “I was along, literally and figuratively, for the ride.”
Waiting and gaining the trust of their subjects can take days, months or even more, and Keane said that women had a special ability to connect with other women, especially in societies such as in the Middle East, where there’s limited contact between men and women who aren’t related.