UAE: Xposure 2023 offers fascinating peek into National Geographic's journey to top of visual storytelling

A captivating session at the festival takes attendees through the legacy of the institution, starting with the publication of its first photograph in 1890

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A Staff Reporter

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Published: Sun 12 Feb 2023, 3:44 PM

Did you know that when National Geographic Magazine published its first-ever breathtaking wildlife photos, members of the board resigned in outrage? They believed that the reputable magazine was losing its touch and "turning into a picture book.”

In a captivating session at the 7th annual edition of the International Photography Festival ‘Xposure’, Whitney Johnson, National Geographic’s Vice President of Visuals, took attendees on a journey of time travel through the legacy of the institution and the story of what defines a ‘Picture of the Year’, starting with the publication of its first photograph in 1890, to how National Geographic’s readers became viewers.


“National Geographic's dedication to innovation and new methods of storytelling is a defining characteristic. We've broken barriers, right from our early use of flash photography and trailblazing underwater colour photography, to our cutting-edge 360-degree video from the International Space Station. The heart of National Geographic has always been about pushing the limits and exploring new frontiers, and our photos continue to capture and distill moments into single, unforgettable scenes.”

A storyteller at heart, Johnson shared her passion for telling tales that matter, citing her earliest memories of documentary films and how they transported her to distant places. She also encouraged embracing technological advancements not just for better performance but with the purpose to help us understand the “unfamiliar more clearly and make an impact."


Johnson emphasised the importance of having something to say and how, when done right, photography can produce intense, passionate content that can evoke emotions. She also touched on the significance of “who is behind the camera” and the need for an artistic eye. She highlighted the importance of differentiating between perspective and bias and how the global pandemic has made the use of local photography stronger with more diverse voices now being published with National Geographic.

“Creativity flourishes with diversity, and this is not said enough. Today, the internet and digital photography have transformed images and image-making, and publishing photos is no longer the endgame, but just the beginning," she said.

Johnson also shared how National Geographic is expanding its horizons to space with its Nasa collaboration. "Artemis II is the first flight under the Artemis programme to carry astronauts on a journey around the Moon and back to Earth aboard Nasa's Orion spacecraft.”

She also shed light on other forms of visual storytelling embraced by the National Geographic. “We are constantly exploring new frontiers, like virtual reality and augmented reality, to transport our audience to new places. Our projects have taken people on a visual feast from the top of Mt Everest to the depths of Machu Picchu. We’ve also immersed ourselves into the metaverse, exploring and capturing the edge of digitally constructed universes.”

Johnson then delved into the evolution of visual technology and how it has developed and been curated over time. She emphasised the pivotal role of images in transporting people to unfamiliar places and how technology has changed the way we produce and interact with images. “Technologies will continue to evolve, yet the values of storytelling will remain. The audience of the future will benefit from our ambitions and commitment to innovation, but it's important to balance that with preserving our core values.”

Johnson also shared deep insights about the art of visual storytelling, leaving the Xposure festival audience with a newfound appreciation for the power of visuals and the impact they can have on our understanding of the world around them.

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