The National Geographic Ritual

The latest National Geographic came in the mail today. I find it a little ironic that a magazine that’s had such a strong bent toward showcasing the effects of global warming is printed on dead trees and trucked around the world to be delivered into our mailboxes, but whatever…

When I get a fresh new NG, I have a ritual I follow.

  1. act all giddy and excited, like a kid with a new present
  2. carefully peel the brown wrapper off, so as to not rip the precious cargo inside. mention a little louder than is necessary that it’s a National Geographic, so any observers don’t get any ideas about what kind of magazine I’m subscribing to that requires a brown wrapper…
  3. inhale. deeply. pause. aaaaaaaaaahhhh… the ink smell, mixed with the off-gassing paper. so, that’s why they kill trees and ship this stuff around the planet…
  4. peruse the cover. always an awesome photograph. try to figure out where the photo was taken. if feeling really geeky, try to figure out how they got the shot. if feeling really cocky, try to figure out if I could have gotten that shot. wonder what it would be like to work on a NG shoot…
  5. scan the topics listed on the cover. the ones obscuring the photograph.
  6. take 10-30 seconds to scan the table of contents. get an idea of what’s inside.
  7. flip past the Cialis/Levitra/Ensomnublis/Viagra/Erectomax ads that fill the first section of the magazine with multiple full-page spreads. gee, I wonder what the prime demographic for this magazine is…
  8. examine every single page, looking only at the photographs. repeat step 4 for each photograph. this will take an hour or two. wonder what the hell they were thinking when selecting at least 3 photos that should have been marked as “Reject” in Aperture. (the motion-blurred flying birds with blurry ice field in the background is the prime candidate this time around – they were trying to be artistic. it would have worked, had the pan managed to get the bird in sharp focus, but it didn’t…) The polar bear shaking off water is one of the best catches of this issue. wow. Knowing that the bear charged the photographer seconds after the shot was taken just makes it so much better. Some of the wide-angle shots of meltwater reservoirs on top of the ice are pretty amazing, too.
  9. if any articles look really interesting, go back and read them.
  10. wonder why NG isn’t just a photo magazine. by FAR the best part of the magazine. the articles are great, too, but they take up paper that would be better allocated to more photos…
  11. come back to the issue several times over the next month, slowly working through all articles, letters, sidebars. revisiting every photograph. wondering how freaking cool it would be to work on a NG shoot.
  12. put the magazine away for “safe keeping” never to open it again once the next one comes in.

As much as I love NG, I really think I’d prefer an online-only subscription. With access to high-resolution photographs and galleries, I’d be more than satisified. And it would save countless trees, prevent tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, conserve fossil fuels, etc…

7 thoughts on “The National Geographic Ritual”

  1. amusing. brown paper bags. i wonder if you have a few boxes dedicated to the mag. i knew a guy who actually had them dating from from something like 1960. he actually gave all of them away shortly before passing away. i was kind of tempted, but i decided against hording useless things like that. the library is a better place for archival material.

  2. The subscription began after I moved out of my folk’s house long, long ago. I’ve been intermittently subscribing to the mag over the years, but keep coming back because of the ritual. There’s just something so visceral and satisfying about pouring over a printed magazine that’s “mine.” Yeah. I know…

  3. How did you get your copy a day before me? That doesn’t seem fair.

    I’m just glad I got my copy after reading your blog entry, ’cause you got me thinking about the magazine.

    I do agree with finding the paper packaging eco-wrong. I wonder if there’s a friendlier way to send the magazines undamaged? I wish I’d be happy with online magazines, but I’m not comfortable reading them as easily as I am with paper. Maybe we just need electronic readers like that new Sony thing to be able to display any type of print media we want.

  4. In California, my copy arrives in a plastic bag instead of a brown wrapper.

    I’ve found a great use for my (recent) old copies of the magazine. Once or twice a year, when I go on a dive boat out to the California Channel Islands, I gather up all of my recent issues and leave them on the boat. There are 30 people coming in every few days that need something to read between dives, so they get put to good use, especially since there’s usually something ocean-related in most issues.

  5. A few years back I taught a Photoshop for beginners class. I started the class by citing the “From the Editor” column in the June 2000 issue of National Geographic. 47 photographers, more than half of the regular NG photographic staff, had gathered for an annual photographic seminar.

    The stats:

    “The 47 men an women show here have collectively logged some 700 years taking pictures for this magazine alone. They’ve photographed roughly 715 articles, and a at a current average of 29,000 frames shot per story, that works out to about 20.7 million images.”

    If you count, there are somewhere around 15 images to most NG stories (at least this was true when I was teaching the Photoshop class). I told everyone in the class that the trick to finding such stunning images is as much about the number of photographs you take as it is about the artist’s eye. If I took 29,000 photographs, I bet I could find 15 really good ones.

    Like you, I keep my NG issues (dating back to 1990). I get two slip cases each year to hold them neatly. But I do go back and read them from time to time. It was fun scanning through some issues this morning trying to find the June 2000 article. I even came across a panda picture while my five-year-old daughter was with me, looking at the pictures. Both my girls are HUGE panda fans, so this was a good moment.

  6. I was just browsing through this month’s issue again, and kept thinking “I’d sure like a ‘More Properties’” feature, like Flickr has for the photos published there. I’d really like to see focal length, aperture, exposure, etc… settings for the shots. Another reason why an online version of the mag would be more powerful – I could have an EXIF inspector on every photo…

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