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  • October 6, 2014

Found Favorites: Bringing the Past to Present

With 2013 being the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society, it was high time for us do something fun and magical with our photographic archive. And even after publishing 632 archival photographs on National Geographic’s “Found” Tumblr, working on the edit is still my favorite part of the week.

I look for a variety of images that range in date from the late 1800s to the 1990s. It’s my job to search through thousands of digitized images to find just the right formula to surprise, inspire, or intrigue you.

Here are some of my all-time favorites:

Picture of woman in red swimsuit bathing
A 1936 color photograph shot in Berlin on Agfacolor, a German film.
Photograph by Hans Hildenbrand

One of the things that makes the National Geographic archive so special is our large collection of Autochromes—photographs that were shot using early color plate techniques. This photo was shot on Agfacolor, another early color film that was developed by the Germans. I love the brightness of the woman’s swimsuit and her strong body language. The blurred background also allows us to focus more on her instead of the background, which appears more impressionistic.

Picture of a raft resting on water
A raft rests peacefully on Switzerland’s Lake Thun, September 1985.
Photograph by Jodi Cobb

This photograph is rather simplistic yet so dreamy. It’s rare that you see a cloud completely obscuring the horizon in such a seamless way.

Picture of neon lights in vegas
A Las Vegas hotel’s neon lights are reflected on a parked car, December 1992.
Photograph by Chris Johns

A little retro Vegas never hurt anyone. This is a classic shot that feels like it’s from a Hollywood film. I keep expecting to see Robert DeNiro or George Clooney somewhere in the frame.

Picture of people walking in snow with umbrellas and balloons
People strolling through a park in Finland during a wet May snowstorm, 1968.
Photograph by George F. Mobley

Whoever thought it was a good time for a fun day in the park in Finland was dead wrong. It’s curious and fascinating to see this surreal scene of a snowstorm dampening a May outing. The almost teal-colored scene contrasts well with the brightness of the balloons.

Picture of children sitting on
Victoria amazonica water lilies can reach 20 feet in circumference and support up to 300 pounds each. Perching children atop the massive leaves was all the rage in water gardens of the time. Salem, North Carolina, c. 1892.
Photograph by Frank Hege

I have a confession to make. I’m obsessed with pictures of lily pads. This photograph of children (and a pup) sitting on giant water lilies is wonderfully bizarre. You can tell by the blur around their faces that no one in this picture was able to sit still for very long.

Picture of men looking at volcano
Men stand beside a volcano’s crater eighteen months after an eruption on Tristan da Cunha Island, 1964.
Photograph by James P. Blair

This photograph called out to me because it has just the right amount of mystery. It’s almost as if the men are looking at something in the crater below that is out of sight to us. I also like how you can see the sea in the distance, making this volcanic island seem so desolate.

Picture of wood splintering through cinderblock
A piece of wood shot from a cannon shows the damage done by tornadoes. Lubbock, Texas, June 1987.
Photograph by Chris Johns

This is a strange shot, to be sure. To me, there is something so forceful and abstract about it. It’s rare to see an “explosion” like this as it’s actually happening. We are brought right into the action and can almost feel the impact.

Picture of woman standing near cliff
A woman stands before limestone cliffs in the Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec, September 1934.
Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart

I can’t decide if this image is more like an Andrew Wyeth painting or an Alfred Hitchcock film, but my best guess is that it’s a little bit of both. This woman is placed perfectly in the landscape in a way that communicates how immense the cliffs and road are around her.

Janna Dotschkal curates the National Geographic Found Tumblr. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

There are 47 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Mick McMillan
    May 12, 2015

    Wonderful collection of antiquity images…..many of which are familiar to me. I gravitate to the B. Anthony Stewart image. The image tones are classic from his era. A “soft” BW photo paper developer coupled with a “warm toned” low contrast paper. This combination allows detail to be preserved in the shadows and high lights….allowing the warm tone in the paper base to be subtle but inviting. Thank You, Janna.

  2. Mark
    January 11, 2015

    In the lily pad shot, the looks on the faces, particularly that of the black man, provide an interesting counterpoint to the frivolity of the subject. The limestone cliffs shot reminds me of the Michael Powell film “The Edge of the World”

  3. sue
    December 1, 2014

    i’m looking for a photo of an 110 year old indain women drinking moonshine ,she lives in her tepee as her animals live in the government house they gave her . we thing it was in the 1960 issue ? but it is my great great grandma . it there any one who can help me find it ? thank you

  4. Anindya Mookerjee
    November 13, 2014

    Thanks for the lovely photographs.I was spellbound.Keep up the good work. Hope to see more like these.

  5. Mary Beth
    November 12, 2014

    Extraordinary!

  6. Roy
    October 26, 2014

    Hi Janna! Just stopping by to say you rock! Also—I feel confident that I will forever think of you when I see a lily pad, especially one topped with a pug in a chair.

  7. Afnan Fathima
    October 25, 2014

    amazing pics… truly inspiring ….. way to go NATGEO…!!! i love u guys for showing us he true colors of the world

  8. Victoria
    October 23, 2014

    Thank you so much, Janna. I love the Hans Hildenbrand photo shot in Berlin on Agfacolor! Can it be purchased in print? I couldn´t find it in the national geographic art store and I would love to see it on my wall… greetings from Rome!

  9. Beverly Montenat
    October 20, 2014

    I was arrested by the Water Lilly Pads with the children on them. It was especially interesting to note it was in NC as we are moving there next year!

  10. Betty H.
    October 20, 2014

    Love the raft photo. However, please note that the correct word is ‘simple’ – not ‘simplistic.’ Simplistic means treating a complex subject overly simplified,

  11. Edwin J Martinez
    October 19, 2014

    These pictures brought out of the archives of National Geographic are truly stunning. I want to say thank you for taking the time to sift through and find these truly inspiring works of art. As a photographer and history student, I love how these images capture beauty in different places through out time. Almost makes you feel as if you are traveling back in time to capture a glimpse of how life used to be. It is wonderful to see how even back in the 1960’s the magazine used such stark contrast to bring out beautiful simplicity in art (Autochrome Shot). Great work! I look forward to seeing more of these.

  12. Amit Kr. Chowdhury
    October 16, 2014

    Thanks for your awesome real life images. These are nice & interesting too. It clearly depicts why you’re the best. All of them are mind-blowing & nostalgic, especially the old photographs cherish the rich legendary legacies of our past. Send more of them. Also load some great photos of Indian archeological monuments, cultural diversities, mythology etc.
    Once again I express my hearty appreciation for the throttling bounties of your endeavor.

  13. michele juman
    October 15, 2014

    your pics are awesome

  14. Jimi Glen
    October 14, 2014

    Hi Janna, Thanks for the article – the photograph “Men stand beside a volcano’s crater eighteen months after an eruption on Tristan da Cunha Island, 1964. BY JAMES P. BLAIR” – A good friend of mine, Dr. Julian Day, has Tristan Da Cuna ties, so I sent him a copy of the article. I know he won’t mind me sharing his response.
    “The guy on the right is my Dad (Peter Day). I remember that day well. The other two guys are Dick Swain, an islander, and Jerry Stableford the PWD guy. These were part of a party of 60 people called “the advance party” who went back (to the Island) ahead of “the main party” of about 220 people to get the island ready (for repatriation). A few days later Hilary (Julian’s sister) and I went up to the crater…..I was 8 years old at the time. We collected rocks that were all colours of the rainbow and took them home still warm. Big sulphur smell on the edge of crater.” – Quite something, hey? Please do this again!
    : – )
    Regards, Jimi

    • Janna Dotschkal
      October 14, 2014

      Hi Jimi,

      Thanks for the information. It’s always exciting to discover more background info on a picture.

      Best,

      Janna

  15. Sylvie
    October 14, 2014

    I LOVE the photos and rest of the stories! Send more…educational as we’ll!

  16. sindhya
    October 14, 2014

    every pics are awesome and giving me a nice feeling….

  17. Michael Wood
    October 13, 2014

    The photographs from NatGeo are amongst the greatest and these archival provide an ingress into a world gone by. The Tristan da Cunha recalls the mass migration of residents to the UK temporarily. What about the b/w photos of Campbell Whalley taken in Serengeti in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that must be in the archives?

  18. Annika Linde
    October 13, 2014

    Re. “People strolling through a park in Finland during a wet May snowstorm, 1968.” The white hats seen in the picture are the “student caps”, which have been used in the Nordic countries since the mid-19th century. They were originally associated with completion of the entrance exam to the universities. Some variation may be seen in the cap’s design between the countries, but the tradition per se remains quite strong even today.

  19. Samuel
    October 13, 2014

    Woman in bathing costume. Agfa was the first to use a resin to prevent colours from wandering (moving)between layers. Kodak copied the this when the using of resin was discovered when America took control of Agfa in America when America entered the war. It was called Ansco colour film. Amazing colour, 80 years on.

  20. Ged Prendergast
    October 13, 2014

    Beautiful,I could stare at them for hours, each one inviting you into its mystery.

  21. susan sterling
    October 13, 2014

    impossible to choose only one “favorite”! the lily pads enthralls me!

  22. L.Wheeler
    October 12, 2014

    I love looking at these old shots. Keep them coming! Please

  23. Bill Bangham
    October 12, 2014

    It was good to see an image by Anthony Stewart. He and my father were good friend. I remember the two of them hanging around when I was a kid.

  24. Fawaz Shalan
    October 12, 2014

    Thank you Janna for sharing your hard work and insights. I was intrigued by the woman on the cliff and the first thing that caught my eye was how the meandering lane not only seems to echo the cliffs but it leads the eye naturally to come to rest at the woman. Fabulous!

  25. Karen
    October 12, 2014

    Some brief genealogical work revealed that I had relatives in Salem (now Winston-Salem), NC, at the time of the water lilles photograph. We always think of the Colonial era Salem and tend to skip over the next 100 years, when Winston also grew, and folks were more cosmopolitan. Thank you for an accidental personal connection.

  26. Joe Cancellare
    October 12, 2014

    Well done. Some I recognized and some I didn’t. Keep it up

  27. Rik Stavale
    October 12, 2014

    The Finnish “day in the park” is the annual Mayday celebration. I lived in Helsinki 10 years & Finns will celebrate this day come hell and/or high water. Who else would bring umbrellas to a snow storm? 😉

    http://www.saunalahti.fi/marian1/gourmet/season4a.htm

  28. Kathy
    October 12, 2014

    Thank you for sharing these with us, Janna. Looking at a great photograph is like reading an entire book in a moment.

  29. Barbara J. Schwarting
    October 12, 2014

    This series of photos leaves you wanting more. Solitary events brought together makes one wonder what other views we have missed over time at our homes.

  30. Dan Locke
    October 12, 2014

    Is the Anthony Stewart Gaspe Peninsula photo available for sale?

  31. Connie Canby
    October 12, 2014

    I like the way the woman on the cliff is shaped exactily like the cliffs edge line from her hat to her shoes and how she intergrates into the landscape.

  32. Ann Orser
    October 12, 2014

    In the ‘day in the park’ photo the balloons and the preponderance of white hats makes it look like it was a special celebration day. Do you have any information on that?

  33. Patricia
    October 12, 2014

    My all-time favorite is the raft. Like it is not from this earth.

  34. Pamela Coons
    October 12, 2014

    Love looking at the past. Photos captioned with a location and date give such great perspective on history.

  35. Yvonne
    October 12, 2014

    Lovely and lonely of many of the photos.

  36. Roger Garlin
    October 12, 2014

    Beautiful collection, Jana – I can only imagine your delight at editing through the archives. My favorite here is the lady of the lime cliffs!
    R

  37. Bill Robb
    October 12, 2014

    Very interesting selection of photos. The park scene in Finland is fascinating to me because of all the similar white caps and the fact that people are buying balloons on such a miserable day.

  38. Clementine
    October 12, 2014

    In the subjective ‘eye’ of the camera! Magic Abounds!

  39. johnnie west
    October 11, 2014

    More than greatness.

  40. Chloe Chan
    October 10, 2014

    These are beautiful, and they share something more than most photos you find around nowadays, even those by “professionals”. It shows that a good photo is not just a clear one! I’ve been following the natgeofound tumblr; they are my favorite tumblr. I only wish it got updated more often! It would be a dream to get to see the natgeo archives.

  41. some kid in juvinile hall
    October 10, 2014

    This is interesting, looks like a whole lot of freedom.. nice..

  42. erbPIX™
    October 9, 2014

    Old photographs are often amazing and convey much about the past.

  43. Adam
    October 7, 2014

    Thanks for this, Janna. The Finnish “day in the park” photograph is one of my favourite photographs of all time. It captures this wonderful sense of misery, despite the best efforts and intentions of the subjects. Without getting too deep or existential, I think it does a good job reminding us about the absurdity of life itself. I originally saw this photo in NatGeo’s archives quite some time back and had forgotten to bookmark the location. If I could find the original photographer I’d attempt to buy a copy, in any event I make a print of this for my desk. Cheers!

  44. Lucretia Mccloud
    October 6, 2014

    Thank you. Your choices were diverse and interesting!

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