When I was growing up, there was a big bookshelf along the wall of my room, within arm’s reach of my bed. It sagged a bit in the middle, under the sheer weight of the National Geographics with which it was packed.
I could extend my arm, grab a random magazine and be transported to all the corners of the world. I could be there with Peary and Henson at the North Pole; or Jane Goodall as she befriended the chimpanzees of Gombe; or with Robert Ballard at the bottom of the ocean as the Titanic was found at last. I got to see the whole space programme in fast-forward, from Mercury to Apollo 11 to Voyager, in just a handful of issues.
This is why National Geographic’s “50 Greatest Photographs” exhibition, opening at the Art Gallery on 8 August, feels so special. For people like me, it’ll be akin to seeing old friends again, revisiting those touchstones of times gone by. Yet many visitors will be seeing the images for the first time, and all that awe and wonder will crash in upon them in a single wave.
Our team visited the exhibition at the Expressions gallery in Upper Hutt, just before it began its move north to Te Manawa. One of the lessons the staff there learned early on: have a box of tissues available. Visitors would emerge, overwhelmed by what they’d seen. They’d dry their eyes and, composure regained, plunge straight back into the gallery, eager for another hit of history, adventure and raw emotion.
This is the legacy that the National Geographic has brought – and continues to bring – in its 125-year mission to study “the world and all that is in it”. As the final stop in this exhibition’s New Zealand tour, Te Manawa is tremendously excited to be a part of it.
50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic, Te Manawa Art Gallery, 8 August – 1 November.
[Image credits: Mecca, Saudi Arabia 1965, by Thomas J Abercrombie; Moscow, Russia 1983, by Sam Abell]