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  • August 26, 2015

Editor’s Picks: Ten Beloved Photographs from the Archives

As the curator of the Found Tumblr, I often find myself lost in the pages of history when searching through the National Geographic archives. You might not know this, but National Geographic was one of the first publications to have photographs on its pages. Our first photograph was an engraving of a topographic map in 1889, just one year after our founding in 1888. The archive contains photos unlike many others taken during the 1800s and early 1900s. When staged family portraits and celebrity pinups were the norm, National Geographic staked its claim as a forbearer of modern photojournalism, capturing daily life one frame at a time.

I’m often attracted to images that have what I call “good energy”—bright colors, a surprising scene, and a hint of excitement. Here I share a few of my favorites from Abu Dhabi, South Dakota, France, Romania, and more.

mount rushmore construction
Thomas Jefferson at Mount Rushmore under construction, 1939
Photograph by Edwin L. Wisherd
When you see Mount Rushmore, it’s hard to imagine what it might have looked like while it was being built. Well, now you know what TJ looked like when he was getting his eyelashes put on. This photograph is awe-inducing, which is the best ingredient for any photograph.
cat and woman at cafe
A regular at Le Louis IX in Paris, “Caramel” keeps a client company, 1988.
Photograph by James L. Stanfield
Little did they know in 1988 that cat cafés would become popular today. I wouldn’t mind having a table companion like “Caramel” every once in a while. This photograph captures the magical mood of Paris’s cafe culture on a quiet evening.
red sailboat in landscape
Iron and manganese seepage creates streaks on a sandstone wall on Lake Powell in Utah, 1967.
Photograph by Walter Meayers Edwards
I appreciate photographs that do a great job of capturing a large landscape. Usually this is done by including a smaller object or person to reveal the scale. In this photograph, the red sail boat pierces through a brown landscape and is the perfect reminder that, yes, that rock wall is massive.
goldfish
Two bubble eye goldfish stare outside their aquarium, 1973.
Photograph by Paul Zahl
This photograph isn’t particularly complex, but these swollen-eyed goldfish seem to be infused with fun and capture a small everyday moment.
men sitting in fast food restaurant
An American restaurant chain is patroned by local Abu Dhabian men, 1975.
Photograph by Winfield Parks
There are many photographs in our archives that are reminiscent of paintings, but this one in particular reminds me of a painting of a diner by Edward Hopper. The fast food signage contrasts with the clientele and glowing 70s lampshades inside.
women in whirlpool
Women enjoy the benefits of a heated whirlpool in Saint Petersburg, Florida, 1973.
Photograph by Jonathan Blair
This whirlpool sure looks like a lot of fun. The Greek statues, blue-green tile, and funny goggles make this photograph feel like it’s a scene from a Wes Anderson film.
people standing beneath neon sign
The glow of an atomic bomb test draws Las Vegas casino workers, 1953.
Photograph by Volkmar K. Wentzel
This photograph has an air of mystery to it. What are the people staring at? Why is the sky lit up? It harkens back to a different era—one where atomic bomb tests near the leisure town of Las Vegas were commonplace.
sphinx face moving egypt antiquities
Cranes lift the face of a statue from the Abu Simbel Temples in Egypt, 1966.
Photograph by Georg Gerster
Did you know that sphinxes could get a facelift? Neither did I. The cast of characters standing around as the face gets lifted out feels right out of an Indiana Jones film. I feel transported into this historic moment.
landscape scene castle romania
Buckets of iron ore are transported to a major steelworks in Hunedoara, Romania, 1975.
Photograph by Winfield Parks
This photograph brings together many elements into one stunning landscape. The castle in the background and dramatic sky make it feel out of a fairy tale, but then you look closer and see the gritty machinery, which gives off a dystopian vibe.


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

There are 6 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Desanges Duguay
    September 13, 2015

    Wow! I really enjoy seing these pictures. I went to visit Mount Rushmore and it was amazing! I saw the movie on how they did it. It is stunning!

  2. Deo Cabral
    September 9, 2015

    the last one is a nostalgic moment how things was before the innovative ways to do things.

  3. Dave Michael
    September 8, 2015

    Wow!! Those photos are great and give you a feeling of going back in time.

  4. Noah Patterson
    August 31, 2015

    The last photo by Winfield Parks is absolutely incredible. I couldn’t think of a better photo to show industrialization in a somewhat recent time. Great work.

  5. Christiana Kalampoki
    August 28, 2015

    Beautiful collection of pictures and truly amazing stories. I really enjoyed this article.

  6. Jo. Unrau
    August 27, 2015

    I enjoyed the pictures. Very good, thank you.

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