The Collectors Series edition of In Focus is simply the existing book at a smaller trim size. This magnificent collection of 280 photographs by many of the world's greatest photographers tells the tale of portrait photography over time in page after page of arresting images. Each photograph stands proudly on its own, yet taken together, they tell a much more complex and subtle story of the ever-evolving art form in constant creative response to new ideas, new eras, and new technologies.
Through the years, National Geographic magazine's staff photographers have often elevated stock depictions of "exotic" cultures into haunting glimpses of other lives. In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits presents a century of captivating images of ordinary people from around the world--280 photographs of pleasure, grief, stoicism, shyness and sheer endurance. In thoughtful essays, five photographers frankly assess changing notions of authenticity and discuss their own methods of capturing a stranger's personality on the run. In the beginning, the magazine showed people stiffly posed in their native costumes, viewed as anthropological specimens. Advances in camera technology created a greater degree of intimacy and spontaneity. Then came color film, which ushered in an era dominated by corny themes and perkily posed subjects in brightly hued clothing. The 1970s marked a new honesty in portraiture, a willingness to go beyond the superficial to investigate the small moments that make up daily life everywhere. In Focus draws upon the magazine's complete archives to raise intriguing questions about how editorial choices help define our understanding of the world. For example, in 1981, National Geographic published Sam Abell's elegiac portrait of Rosa--the last of the Yahgan Indians of Terra del Fuego--wreathed in atmospheric smoke against a dark background, in the stately tradition of Edward S. Curtis. We also see one of Abell's unpublished photos of Rosa in her modest home, grimacing as she stands in the blue light of her TV, next to a poster commemorating the restoration of Chile's constitution in 1980. The gallery of portraits in this splendid book includes many memorable faces, from the unnerving grin of the Wodaabe tribesman in Niger (who wears colorful makeup as part of a courtship ritual) to the sunny self-possession of a child in Murmansk who holds up four tiny fingers to indicate her age. Beautiful women abound--they have helped sell the magazine from its earliest days. As the decades go by, people everywhere seem more at ease being photographed. But they remain as fascinating as ever, perhaps because we'll never know what they were thinking when the shutter clicked. —Cathy Curtis