National Geographic Critique

November 4, 2008

Odysseys and Photographs: Masters from the National Geographic Archives and the All Roads Photography Project at the National Geographic Museum both exhibited exceptional photographers and their portfolios. Two photographers, Luis Marden and Khaled Hasan, have unique life experiences that have shaped their photography and their careers.

Luis Marden, who spent 64 years with National Geographic, was notable for his use of color photographs, both on land and underwater. National Geographic allowed him to photograph all over Central America, South America and the Caribbean. One of his most appealing images is entitled, “El Salvador” from 1941. It depicts the side of a dark skinned woman’s face as she studies a coffee plant. She is surrounded by the trees, the beans, and the white flowers of the plant line her hair. It is as if she and the plant are intertwined and have become one in the same. The picture uses a beautiful collaboration of earthy color: reds, browns, greens, and blacks. The photograph not only holds aesthetic beauty, but also distinguishes the coffee bean and plant as being a staple of South American agriculture and economy. Coffee is therefore apart of the El Salvador culture, and Marden insinuates the beauty of the culture through his photograph. 

Khaled Hasan, a photographer who was the 2008 Awardee of the All Roads Photography Program for his photo “Living Stone: A Community Losing Its Life,” generally uses black and white photography. Born in Dhaka, Hasan’s award-winning photograph was taken in his home country, Bangladesh. It is a close-up picture of a masked man, whom Hasan distinguishes as Kalam Ali, taken in front of stone-crushing machinery. Ali’s face is completely covered except for his eyes, which are vivid and astounding. Because of the contrast within the color and shape of his eyes, the audience’s attention and focus is immediately brought to his face. Behind him, the fast moving wheel of the stone-crushing machine is blurred while the rest of the machine remains focused. This effect creates movement within the piece. 

The life experiences and photographic eye give both photographers an edge within their work. They are different, most obviously, because of their use of color or black and white photography. Marden uses intense color to create the forms in “El Salvador” whereas Hasan creates form through contrast in his black and white photography. Also, although Marden emulated the cultures he was in, he was still not a native to his subjects like Hasan in “Living Stone: A Community Losing Its Life.” However, both photographers attempt to distinguish different cultures in their rawest forms: within the foundations of their social and economic institutions and everyday life. 

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