The magazines piled up on our coffee tables for decades, slick, colorful, eye-catching. Then, simply too beautiful to throw away, they migrated into closets and attics and garages, stored until someone needed to write a school report or discovered a curiosity about an exotic part of the world.
Now, Taschen has brought that world back into the light.
To celebrate the magazine’s 125th anniversary, the publishing house has released National Geographic: Around the World in 125 Years, a stunning 1,468 page, three-volume collection of photographs, some never published before. Retailing for $499 for the set and arranged geographically — The Americas & Antarctica, Europe & Africa, Asia & Oceania — the books come in a limited edition of 125,000. And yes, there are a few historic photographs of Florida included.
They are works of art that remind you of the beauty and power of print.
“I think what makes this book special is that the National Geographic has the richest, deepest photo archive in the world,” says the book’s editor, Reuel Golden, former editor of the British Journal of Photography and executive editor at Photo District News. “It’s a world history of the planet. When you look at this archive, you’re really exploring the history of photography. It was the first magazine to champion and create the idea of a photo essay, that you could use photos to tell a story.”
Golden, who also edited the classic Harry Benson: The Beatles for Taschen, not only went through the magazine’s archives to find the perfect photos but also spent more than three months poring over every printed issue published.
“For me, it’s a privilege,” he says. “You talk to photographers, and whether they’re trendy fashion photographers or photojournalists or portrait photographers, 80 to 90 percent will say, ‘My original inspiration was the National Geographic.’ ”
Jodi Cobb, one of the magazine’s first female photographers, has worked in 65 countries for the magazine and still works as a freelancer. She has three photos in the collection.
“I think the sheer size of the books allows you to really see the photographs as you’ve never seen them before, especially if you’re used to seeing them in a magazine,” Cobb says. “What I like about them is they’re not chronological. They go in and out of time, so you get a timeless look at places. Each picture is allowed to be its own work of art. They’re not picked for journalistic reasons but strictly for the beauty and the power of the image.”
Cobb, whose favorite image is of a small “mud boy” in Papua New Guinea, is “thrilled” to have her work included and also appreciates the unorthodox approach used in choosing the photographs.
“So many of these photos have never been seen before and are a complete surprise. Some are not photographs you would think of being National Geographic photographs. They’re subtle. Back in the day, the magazine called them ‘quiet pictures.’ They rarely publish those; they really wanted what they called ‘zingers.’ But these are allowed to speak softly.”
The books themselves do not, however, speak softly: The volumes are so large they come with slipcases that also function as book stands. You can buy (or merely marvel at) a copy at Taschen’s Miami Beach store at 1111 Lincoln Rd.
Hard as the books may be to carry, the sheer size of the collection allows for inclusiveness, part of the publisher’s mission. The other goal was fueling a collective nostalgia, Golden says.
“National Geographic represents people being curious about the world, a sense of discovery and adventure. That’s why people kept these magazines. It sort of kept the spirit going by having these magazines in your house, keeping them and not throwing them away. You could refer back and go traveling. In this day and age of Google images, that sense of mystery has gone a little bit. Back then, you didn’t know what these places looked like. There was no Internet. ... This is something we were very conscious of. People always say, ‘I first became aware of other countries through collections of the National Geographic my parents or grandparents collected.’ Everybody has some personal relationship with it.”