Facts - Vivat St. Petersburg
Just about 100 years ago, when the young National Geographic Society was about to go bankrupt, Alexander Graham Bell the then president of the Society, urged his neophyte son-in-law editor Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, to publish "more dynamical pictures - pictures of life and action-pictures that tell a story to be continues in our text!" The early, rather boring issues of the magazine sparsely illustrated with graphs and some half tones, had attracted less than 1000 Society members, not enough to financially support the enterprise.
Following Bell's advice, the 23-year-old Grosvenor was quick to notice that the membership grew whenever he featured exotic pictures of far away places. Fascinating firsts appeared in increasing numbers: in 1905 - 11 pages of forbidden Lhasa, 1906 - nocturnal flash powder photographs of wildlife, 1907 - American Indians by Edward Curtis, 1910 - hand tinted scenes of Korea and China.
With the Auto chrome process, first available in 1907, Grosvenor pioneered the publication of color photography. Under his 55-year leadership as editor and president, he was the architect of the popular, glossy, information packed monthly magazine we know today with a circulation of more than five million at the time of his death.
It is evident that Gilbert H Grosvenor clearly understood the cultural value and power of photographs. His firm belief that "geography could be fascinating, if told simply, accurately and if fully illustrated, led him to establish the Society's own staff of talented photographers and writers; and to install a first-rate, modern, air-conditioned laboratory and image archive. He kept abreast of all the latest developments in photography, especially in color.
In 1913, Grosvenor, an amateur photographer in his own right, set out to practice what he preached. With his father, a distinguished professor of history, he set the guidelines for National Geographic reporting. In Russia they documented a world that would never be seen again. His candid impressions taken with a 4A Folding Kodak, recall the horse-and-droshky days. We can window shop in s toy store in Moscow and wander through a shopping arcade beneath Byzantine saints and angels. In a now vanished garment center, pictures attract illiterate customers.
New perspectives flow out of these graphic riches; they supplement the written record, cross language barriers, and put us in touch with everyday life around the world, past and present.
When Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, the National Geographic Magazine's young editor, took these last glimpses of pre-revolutionary Russia while traveling with his family in 1913, he set basic guidelines for the photographic reporting of today. "The mind must see before it can believe," he often said.
The 4A Folding Kodak that he carried was loaded with roll film instead of the glass plates more commonly used at the time. The coating of gelatin emulsions on flexible celluloid made such cameras easier to load, and instantaneous exposures freed the photographer from the cumbersome tripod.
With roll film came modern travel photography. Countless pictures were snapped by Americans on the fashionable grand tour of Europe, a cultural travel package of the time. Only the more adventurous left the beaten track.
Russia in 1913 was little known to travelers. Tsar Nicholas II ruled 172 million subjects representing a mosaic of more than a hundred language groups with rich cultural legacies. Moscow was a city of aristocrats and peasants, magnificent churches, and other imposing architecture.
The importance of this land was not lost on the Geographic's first editor-photographer. With his father, a distinguished professor of history, as a traveling companion and guide, Gilbert Grosvenor documented a world that will never be seen again.
His candid impressions revive Russian life in the horse-and-droshky days. We can window-shop in a toy store, and wander beneath Byzantine saints and angels through an arcade where" His Master's Voice" phonographs are on display. A stately procession of six horses with grooms, all shrouded in white, mourns a death. At one of the Kremlin's gates, he observed that every man failing to uncover his head before an icon was compelled to prostrate himself 52 times.
Gilbert Grosvenor's field experience and his belief that "geography could be fascinating, if told simply, accurately and if fully illustrated," led to the magazine's phenomenal growth and the creation of a talented photographic staff and one of the most advanced laboratories in the country.
For three quarters of a century Geographic photographers have documented a changing world. Their photographs like the photographs of our first photographer, present perceptive insights of our fellow man.
New perspectives flow out of such graphic riches; they supplement the written record, leap language barriers, and put us in touch with everyday life, past and present. To paraphrase our farsighted first photojournalist: The mind must see before it can understand.
Volkmar Wentzel, 2002
All materials provided courtesy of Hemispheres, Inc. an international multidisciplinary arts organization and the Alla Rogers Gallery 1054 31 Street, NW Canal Square- Georgetown, Washington, DC 20007 202 333 8595