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In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits [Hardcover]

National Geographic Society , Leah Bendavid Val , Sam Abell , Chris Johns , William Allard
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 504 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic; First Edition edition (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 079227363X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792273639
  • Product Dimensions: 10.4 x 1.7 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #980,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books) Special Features
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Editorial Reviews Review

Through the years, National Geographic magazine's staff photographers have often elevated stock depictions of "exotic" cultures into haunting glimpses of other lives. In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits presents a century of captivating images of ordinary people from around the world--280 photographs of pleasure, grief, stoicism, shyness and sheer endurance. In thoughtful essays, five photographers frankly assess changing notions of authenticity and discuss their own methods of capturing a stranger's personality on the run. In the beginning, the magazine showed people stiffly posed in their native costumes, viewed as anthropological specimens. Advances in camera technology created a greater degree of intimacy and spontaneity. Then came color film, which ushered in an era dominated by corny themes and perkily posed subjects in brightly hued clothing. The 1970s marked a new honesty in portraiture, a willingness to go beyond the superficial to investigate the small moments that make up daily life everywhere.

In Focus draws upon the magazine's complete archives to raise intriguing questions about how editorial choices help define our understanding of the world. For example, in 1981, National Geographic published Sam Abell's elegiac portrait of Rosa--the last of the Yahgan Indians of Terra del Fuego--wreathed in atmospheric smoke against a dark background, in the stately tradition of Edward S. Curtis. We also see one of Abell's unpublished photos of Rosa in her modest home, grimacing as she stands in the blue light of her TV, next to a poster commemorating the restoration of Chile's constitution in 1980. The gallery of portraits in this splendid book includes many memorable faces, from the unnerving grin of the Wodaabe tribesman in Niger (who wears colorful makeup as part of a courtship ritual) to the sunny self-possession of a child in Murmansk who holds up four tiny fingers to indicate her age. Beautiful women abound--they have helped sell the magazine from its earliest days. As the decades go by, people everywhere seem more at ease being photographed. But they remain as fascinating as ever, perhaps because we'll never know what they were thinking when the shutter clicked. —Cathy Curtis

From Publishers Weekly

The prickly political implications of portrait photography are perhaps at their most evident in this hefty (seven pounds) and gorgeously glossy compilation of work by National Geographic photographers. As the frank essays by such photographers as Sam Abell, Jodie Jobb and William Albert Allard beginning each chapter reveal, behind the unthreatening National Geographic cameras lenses, often less-than-admirable mechanisms were at work. Stuart Franklin writes of the editorial pressure on photographers to provide "pictures of pretty girls" to the point where "hundreds of bare-breasted women, all from poorer countries, were published at a time of booming subscription rates." Editor Bendavid-Val writes of National Geographic's propensity for avoiding controversial issues at home in the United States; turmoil has been less thorny to document in faraway places. "The emotional distance was easy to maintain in an age when communication was cumbersome and long-distance travel was uncommon." Still, a photograph of thieves' severed heads on a billboard in China, or even the photograph "Afghan Girl," published in 1985 and arguably National Geographic's most well-known photograph, pierce through this self-imposed emotional shield. Beyond the isolationism and voyeurism is something oddly moving about this collection of 280-plus portraits: it forms a giant mosaic of American identity, a self-portrait composed of how we look at others.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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4.1 out of 5 stars
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be inspired by the best of the pros December 5, 2004
This is truly one of the great books of people pictures, a treasure chest of images truly deserving the self-imposed subtitle of "greatest portraits".

Trust me on this. Having spent almost 40 years in the news business as a reporter, photographer and editor, I have some experience in recognizing good pictures and hiring people who can produce good pictures. By any standard, these are great pictures.

A "great picture" hinges on an intangible called the moment of peak action. Let me explain that by referring to a photo not in this book; the angry defiant look of Sir Winston Churchill in the portrait by Yousouf Karsh of Ottawa, Canada. Churchill was angry because Karsh had just taken away his cigar, which Churchill had just lit of relax after a speech to the Canadian parliament. It's probably the most famous portrait ever of Churchill.

Had I taken that picture, instead of the angry portrait I'd have waited and asked Churchill to "smile". As everyone knows, it would have been a lousy picture of a great man. Karsh had the genius to recognize the precise moment of peak action; likewise, in picture after picture in this book, I saw the same superb talent in capturing the most evocative expression of the subjects. This is the heart of great photography; I think I can recognize it, just as an art critic can recognize a great painting without being able to do it.

Photography is the most accessible of the arts; every parent wants "great" pictures of their children, every lover wants "great" pictures of their beloved, every tourist wants that memorable vacation memory.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost art of bookbinding. November 24, 2008
By D
I am used to top quality when buying products of the National Geographic. This book, however, doesn't meet the high standards I've learned to expect.

If we think of the multitude of amazing photographs NG printed, owns, distributes... the content of this book are very mediocre in comparison. Yes, there are a lot of fine photos but there are too many 'blah, so what' ones too.

Still, for this price, it is a very good deal, to get a giant hardcover full of photographs in colour.

And here comes the biggest drawback of the book: the brand new hardcover simply fell apart in my hands the first time I opened the book. The book is too big and heavy for the lame method of attaching the body of the book to the cover they used.

I pray NG rediscovers the lost art of fine bookbinding.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Binding split April 20, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent photographs, however I am extremely disappointed that the binding could not support the weight of the book when open and has badly split and will fall apart.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivatingly Beatiful December 10, 2008
In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits is a deeply inspiring collection of images, some spontaneously collected and some organized for the sake of composition illustrating the lives of people around the world. Although some photographs, are composed to make a clean, easy to read picture, many others contain an element of "snapshot" quality, which successfully increases the unprompted spirit within each picture.
This book introduced many different lifestyles to me that I had not previously known about or had the chance to research myself. Some photographs show the pristine beauty in certain rituals, and others, the gritty reality of everyday life.
I am inspired to look farther into the cultures of these people I have just perceived. However politically correct or not, I was still spellbound, particularly by a portrait of an Amish teenager working early in the morning out in the fields of a farm. I wonder what his life is like, where this image was taken and who this person is. The book is only a catalyst, exposing the reader to the lives of people from around the world. Another striking image is of a Japanese Geisha taking a cigarette break from applying her makeup. I wonder how the photographers were able to put themselves in these intimate situations and what they said to the subjects in order for them to take the picture.
Overall, I found In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits to be a book full of vibrant, clear, some shocking, some familiar, and all together beautiful images.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Here is the way to take photos of people. October 16, 2008
National Geographic has, of course, always been noted for outstanding photography. The book In Focus is certainly no exception. It offers outstanding portraits from every corner of the Earth. Some of the subject matter seems ordinary, but these skilled photographers are able to turn the ordinary into photographs that you will not forget. This is an excellent book to go through slowly while perusing the photos at length. The skill and the vision of the photographers is evident throughout.

The book is a companion volume to two other National Geographic books - Through the Lens and Wide Angle. All the books are excellent.
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40 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly average and too politically correct October 30, 2004
Considering the millions of images created by National Geographic over the decades, this collection of portraits of "ordinary people" is disappointing. The images are defintiely not the most striking. The commentaries by photographers and editorial comments do no justice to the collection. The political correctness is overwhelming and entirely unnecessary. For example, the admission "[e]ntire tableaux were arranged to illustrate imagined lives in popular Geographic stories about American cities and states and exotic foreign metropolises and villages." No kidding? That's real news - especially when followed by "[i]ronically, the arrange of elaborate scenes for the sake of photography has become very fashionable these days."

Huh? What's the point?

Many of the photos are indeed transcendant, but the majority are mundane. Overall, a disappointing collection.

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I loved it.
Published 1 month ago by Linda V Jue
3.0 out of 5 stars More desciption
First, I should have paid more attention to the product details in the description. I assumed it was a decent sized "coffee-table book", but it's actually quite tiny (my... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I am making a collection of these Natgeo books!
Published 3 months ago by LEORA MITCHELL
5.0 out of 5 stars Love this book!
Stunningly beautiful book! Words cannot do justice to the photos within!
Published 5 months ago by Mary Ellen Lambertson
5.0 out of 5 stars It is a book of great history with explanations next to each picture
This book sits on our coffee table and whenever we have guests over, it is the first thing they look at. It is a book of great history with explanations next to each picture.
Published 5 months ago by Joshua Ney
5.0 out of 5 stars Many more photographs included than I had expected and was a gift I...
This is quite impressive for its size, and quite comprehensive as well. Many more photographs included than I had expected and was a gift I was pleased to give.
Published 6 months ago by Shirley Creazzo
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Published 9 months ago by marsha hardwick
3.0 out of 5 stars SMALL
Great book, but beware. I thought I was buying the larger version. This is a little 6' x 6".
Published 13 months ago by karen skillins
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Photos
Once again, National Geographic displays its's wonderful photography. It is a great "coffee table" book. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Zaba9901
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