Tuesday, November 2, 2010

National Geographic: Iconic photographs of world nature at Seoul Arts Center

Photographs by Michael Melford, above, and David Doubilet are on display at the National Graphic photo exhibition “Life and Nature” at Seoul Arts Center through Dec. 9. / Courtesy of National Geographic

By Ines Min

A pack of voracious cheetah cubs rip their canines into the flesh of an impala, eyes wide, blank, and staring straight at you. A Japanese snow monkey leans back from a rock, immersing his furry body into the steaming hot springs as a companion holds onto his arm. A 320-kilgram boulder sitting in the expanse of Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa innocently betrays no movement in front of the long, inches-deep tracks behind it.

These are just some of National Geographic’s iconic photographs, currently on display through Dec. 9 at the Hangaram Art Museum in the Seoul Arts Center. ``Life and Nature,’’ held in recognition of the 10th anniversary since the debut of the Korean publication and in honor of the monthly’s 122-year history, brings a collection of images depicting world nature in ― true to form ― a breathtaking, color-saturated show.

Starting with a room of landscapes, the clear, sharp images of George Steinmetz catch the eye. The 53-year-old photographer, and frequent contributor to NG, takes his shots from the air ― from a motorized paraglider. A winner of two first prizes for the World Press Photo, Steinmetz is well known for his photographs of the Antiplano, the world’s highest inhabited area, capturing blue skies reflected in mirror-like bodies of water. Famed underwater photographer David Doubilet offers new perspectives on nature from the bottom up, while Michael Melford spotlights some of the greatest natural mysteries (including the moving boulders of California’s Death Valley).

The second gallery provides raw footage of nature’s best dramas, documenting mother-offspring bonds to hummingbirds in mid-flight. Chris Johns, a photographer and NG’s current editor-in-chief, shoots a split-second of a Zambian gnu mid-flight, as well as the visceral image of the carnivorous cheetahs. Randy Olsen captures humanity, as visitors see a native Ethiopian girl being shown how to decorate her hair with ground rock powder.

Gallery three begins in a more critical approach, summarizing the images as ``Things our children can no longer see!’’A rich, navy sky full of stars dims as audiences think of increasing human light pollution, while deforestation also hits high on the environment’s priority list. Polar bears stranded on melting ice caps are contributed by Paul Nicklen, a well-known NG photographer and frequent observer of the mammal.

``I hope that my works can contribute to protecting endangered places,’’Nicklen said in a statement. ``Issues at the North Pole have not been frequently mentioned by the press although numerous animal species are threatened by decreasing glacier coverage. I want to turn people’s attention to these kinds of subjects.’’

But ending on a positive note, the final gallery finds hope in the small changes occurring globally: solar energy harvesting and the persisting fight of nature. One couple, looking to take a commemorative scene shot of their trip to Canada’s Minnewanka Lake, had their timely photographed unexpectedly refocused by the sudden appearance of a chipmunk. Doe-eyed and standing on its two hind legs, the chipmunk is caught dead-center in front of the lens, surrounded by its natural habitat, not a toe out of place.

A special exhibition of some of National Geographic’s earliest photographs can also be seen outside the gallery halls, including the publication’s first color photograph and images of Alexander Graham Bell, one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society and pivotal force behind the magazine’s success.

Unfortunately, the exhibition captions are only in Korean, leaving behind non-speakers to appreciate the works without the full background of each image. Though no words are needed for the majority of the photographs, the added detail is always welcome information for some pictures taken seemingly in another world.

General admission costs 10,000 won and all visitors are given a free world map poster. For more information, visit www.ngphoto.co.kr (Korean only).


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