Tag Archives: national geographic

Book Review: Odysseys and Photographs

The books from National Geographic never cease to amaze me, and this book is no exception. Beautifully bound and hard-covered, Odysseys and Photographs is another example of book publishing done right. At 10×11″ there’s plenty of room for big brilliant photographs.

And the content of this book is something special. It’s a collection of amazing photographs from four historic storytellers, and many of the images have rarely been seen outside of the National Geographic archives. The four photographers featured in this book exhibit a collective work spanning most of the 20th century. Not only is the work extremely artistic, it’s also historic and serves as a permanent record of the World’s past.

Odysseys and Photographs (ISBN 978-1426201721) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a paid review, nor has it been reviewed or edited by the book’s author or publisher. The book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with the book or the publisher of the book.


Odysseys and Photographs is a hard cover 10×11 inch publication with 224 pages containing 200 photos in both black & white and color. There are four main sections of the book, each covering a written introduction and a set of photos from the four photographers featured (see below). In addition, there’s an overall introduction by Gilbert Grosvenor and an Epilogue by Sam Abell.

The photos contained within the book take us through a journey of time and history across the globe. Although the imagery may seem foreign to us as present-day viewers, we have to realize that many of these are photos of real life and regular people. I often forget that every corner of the world is so different from my own, and this book is an awesome reminder of how diverse and rich our planet really is.

The locations and subjects photographed in this book are too numerous to list. But a few of my favorites include: Williams’ photos from India, Greenland, Syria, and Afghanistan; Marden’s photos from St. Lucia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Tahiti, and the United States; Wentzel’s photos from the Eastern United States, India, and Italy; and Abercrombie’s photos from Alaska, Japan, Egypt, and much of the Middle East (in stunning color too).


The four men featured in the book were more than photographers — they were pioneers, teachers, and friends of the world. The legacy that each of them has left behind is truly awesome.

Maynard Owen Williams (1888-1963) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1919 to 1953. Williams is often attributed with being a part of the group of photographers who invented the personality of National Geographic. He had a way of becoming intimate with his subjects, and this is apparent by looking at the people in his photos.

Luis Marden (1913-2003) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1934 to 1976. Marden was a true explorer and a world scholar, devouring everything his adventures brought to him and masterfully documenting his experience with the camera. Maynard Owen Williams dubbed him “the Michelangelo of the Geographic.”

Volkmar Wentzel (1915-2006) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1937 to 1985. Wentzel extensively photographed Asia and Africa as well as many other parts of the world. He had a strong passion for the preservation of historic photographs.

Thomas Abercrombie (1930-2006) was a National Geographic field correspondent from 1956 to 1994. His charm and charisma gained him access to much of the Middle East and gave him the ability to share the stunning culture with the Western World. Sam Abell (in the epilogue) gives an account of his character: “This is it. A man from Minnesota reading Muslim prayers in French to a Belgian family in a Spanish castle.”


Odysseys and Photographs is a wonderful collection of photos from an equally wonderful collection of photographers. The book is a tribute to these four men and all the passion they put into their work. Each page offers something new and exciting, with a mere 200 photos covering so much of the globe. The book is also a piece of history, and some of the places photographed have either been permanently changed or completely destroyed since the photos were taken.

It’s hard to come up with any negative thoughts on the book. I typically enjoy a little more information or background on the photos in these types of books, but such a thing would be understandably difficult due to the circumstances. Nonetheless, the brief biographies prepare the reader for the photos that follow.

This is another fine photography book from National Geographic, and I would recommend it to those who love photography, art, history, and world culture.

Odysseys and Photographs (ISBN 978-1426201721) can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

Book Review & Contest: Visions of Paradise

Where — or what — is heaven on Earth? This question was posed to the ranks of National Geographic photographers, and their answers are contained in the book Visions of Paradise. This collection of 155 images from 82 photographers takes us on an adventure through every corner of the world, on land, water, and air.

The photos are accompanied by the photographers’ own recollections and thoughts, providing us with a unique and intimate view into the bit of paradise presented. And each chapter is prefaced with an in-depth discussion of various aspects of the environment and human impact.

Visions of Paradise can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.


To celebrate the release of this book, National Geographic is hosting the Visions of Paradise Photography Contest. The general public is invited to submit images that best represent their unique vision of Heaven on Earth. The contest runs from October 21, 2008 to December 21, 2008, and each week 20 editor’s picks will be selected from the qualified entries and posted on the site where viewers can vote for their favorites. At the end of the contest, an expert panel of photographers and art directors will select a final list of 20 official winners. Winners will receive a customized copy of Visions of Paradise with their winning photograph as the cover image. Visit the contest website for more information.


Visions of Paradise is a collective publication from some of the most world renowned photographers of our time. 82 individuals attempt to present the audience with a vision of paradise based on their experience and travels. We are taken on a visual journey through places such as Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands, the rain forests of Borneo, the Tallgrass Prarie National Preserve in Kansas, the ocean surrounding Hawaii, the city of Berlin, North Dakota, New York City, Syria, Darfur, Montana, and the list goes on.

Each of the three chapters (land, water, and air) is introduced by a different noted writer. Linda Kulman speaks to the issues facing our land, how we’ve impacted it, and what we can do to ensure it stays healthy. Joel Bourne Jr. dives into a discussion on the state of our world’s water, and offers some hopeful solutions. And Brian Doyle extols the miracles of air in a lyrical salute.

Each chapter is filled with brilliant and breathtaking imagery as large as life itself. Ranging from one to two page spreads, the photos contained in the book are easily appreciated and adored.


Many people were involved in the creation of this book, so it’s difficult to say who is truly the author. Bronwen Latimer had the premise for the book, and initially posed the question “where is heaven on Earth?” As I mentioned, Linda Lulman, Joel Bourne Jr., and Brian Doyle present us with words for thought prior to each chapter, or theme. And the 82 photographers all have a hand in contributing to both the visual and written portions of the book.

The end of the book also contains short photographer bios, which give you a glimpse of the talent and experience contained within the pages of the book. And in that list of photographers we can find Sam Abell, who also just released a book of his own titled The Life of a Photograph.


This is really a wonderful book to read and enjoy. It tends to contain more text than most photo books you’ll encounter, but the extra insight and understanding is well worth it. At 304 pages, this book requires several nights of reading — though, my wife managed to read it in one day (but she also has the superhuman ability to finish long novels over a weekend). But for the rest of us with sub-superpowers, it’ll take a few more days of getting lost in the photos and digesting the text.

I think the most enjoyable aspect of the book lies in its diversity of style. Photos from a single photographer are typically of similar artistic style and aesthetics. But in a book such as Visions of Paradise, the style is constantly fresh and changing.

Visions of Paradise can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Life of a Photograph

The folks at National Geographic approached me about reviewing an upcoming book from master photographer Sam Abell. The book, The Life of a Photograph, draws on 40 years of fieldwork from Sam and presents readers with a unique view of his work and the life of his photographs. I was also given the great pleasure of speaking with Sam on various topics surrounding his book and photography in general (and that alone would constitute a blog post). So this article is a bit of a mix between a book review and an interview.

The Life of a Photograph can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a paid review, nor has it been reviewed or edited by the book’s author or publisher. The book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge. I am in no way affiliated with the book or the publisher of the book.


The Life of a Photograph is a collection of work from Sam Abell’s experience in the field as a National Geographic photographer. But the book isn’t about National Geographic or the stories covered by the photos — it’s about Sam Abell, his photos, and how they’ve taken on a life of their own. Sam has long been thought of as one of the most artistic photographers working for National Geographic, and this book is certainly filled with artistic photos — some having been previously published by National Geographic, and some being published for the first time ever.

The book is a hearty 208 pages filled with approximately 200 color photos (except for one). Each of the 11 chapters contains thoughts and anecdotes from Sam as he attempts to answer the question “What gives a photograph a life?” Sam has identified photos that have lasted through time and talks about the reason for this. The book was carefully designed by Sam and his editor to show each photo in a most truthful manner. No images were cropped or otherwise post-processed (except to preserve the image, not fix it). The photos are given plenty of room to be enjoyed, and no image bleeds up to the edge of the page or crosses the gutter of the book. The presentation of his work was of the utmost importance to Sam during the creation of this book.

One unique aspect of the book that stands out is the “two views” presentation seen on many of the pages within. Often times, a particular scene is photographed from multiple perspectives and the publication editors (such as those from National Geographic) have the task of choosing one that works best. The other photos are never seen by readers. Sam brings these photos back into the picture and opens up a whole new aspect of his work by showing “two views” from the same scene. This method of presentation has the effect of slowing down the reader because the visual relationship introduced. It also puts the reader in the shoes of the photographer and the magazine editor. All in all, the “two views” presentation is an amazing part of this book.


Sam Abell began his journey into photography during his childhood mainly thanks to his Father, Thad S. Abell. One of his first life-changing experiences was brought on by a photo Sam took of his Dad with his Dad’s Rollei in 1960. The photo went on to win a prize in a national contest in 1961, and this experience helped to shape Sam’s future. He also mentions that one of his major life-changing experiences was reading a simple book on the Great Depression by Dorothea Lange in the mid-1960′s. He was inspired by Lange’s ability to document the world in an artistic fashion, and Sam’s own work through his career has followed the same example.

Sam began his career with National Geographic in 1967, and has since contributed nearly 40 years of work in the field. Along the way, Sam has published several books of his own (The Photographic Life, Stay This Moment, and Seeing Gardens) in addition to several best-selling National Geographic publications (Lewis & Clark: Voyage of Discovery and The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation: From the Louisiana Purchase to Today).

Today, Sam has turned more of his attention to teaching and educating via seminars across the country. He’s also spending a great deal of time editing past photos from his body of work for use in possible future publications. But he certainly hasn’t put down the camera, and he still enjoys taking on side projects in the field and photographing for his personal diary using black & white film (which is the medium that is most dear to this lifelong photographer).

Though my interview with Sam Abell was quite informal, I learned a great deal from this man in just one hour. For a more formal interview with Sam, visit Photo District News for a verbatim discussion.


Some books are flipped through, where the reader glances at the photos within. Others demand to be read and appreciated, but can still be knocked out in a single sitting. While few photography books require a detailed inspection and re-inspection over many sittings, The Life of a Photograph is definitely one of them.

I do believe that every photographer out there can learn much from this book while being inspired by its imagery. I would even go so far as to say that it’s changed the way I look at photos. Sam’s style is incredibly quiet and simple (just like his approach to photography). Upon first glance, the photos don’t appear to be incredibly special — but then they immediately draw you into them and hit you with a profound sense of interest and meaning.

I leave you with Sam’s favorite quote from the book, as he talks about that 1960 photograph of his father:What I no longer remember is the day itself. It was in color wasn’t it? And the snow I knelt on to compose the picture in my dad’s Rollei — wasn’t it cold or wet or both? Surely we talked afterward — about trains or photography or what we’d do next. But all that has vanished. In its place is this photograph. The photograph is what I remember.

The Life of a Photograph can be purchased directly from National Geographic or through Amazon.com.