ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

National Geographic Survival of the Fittest

Updated on April 8, 2017
First National Geographic magazine in 1888 did not have a single photograph.
First National Geographic magazine in 1888 did not have a single photograph. | Source

The National Geographic is no longer exclusively synonymous with amazing photographs of polar bears, mountains in the Equator wearing caps full of ice, golden bales of hay that stretch forever, men wearing rings in their noses or bamboo earrings the size of a coaster. The following video is about the Siberian tiger.

In the year 2014, such images are brought straight to your phone every time you have a Twitter alert. Content is king, somebody said somewhere.

Internet is full of photography portals, making magazines such as National Geographic redundant,
Internet is full of photography portals, making magazines such as National Geographic redundant, | Source

Before cell phone photography, the magazine called National Geographic meant different things to different people.

  • Dreamers: It allowed people to dream, to see themselves walking up the steps of China’s Great Wall, standing outside Buckingham Palace with the hope of catching a glimpse of the Queen, strawberry picking somewhere in Canada or surfing on the awesome waves of Honolulu.

  • Wannabe photographers: Some readers envied National Geographic photographers. They thought they led interesting lives and wanted to be like them. Some readers realised that dream and became photographers, paid or unpaid.

  • Political critics: Hated early copies of the magazine for showing African or Asian kids barefoot or with no clothes at all, thus perpetuating the myth that if kids don’t go to McDonalds, have dogs and 50 teddy bears, they are poor and need handouts from Europe.

Magazine Embraced Technology

National Geographic kept its cool and accepted the fact that anybody with a mobile phone is a potential nature or travel photographer.

We do not have to wait a month or two, for the magazine to reach the corner newsstand or the postman to deliver our subscriptions.

It is all instant. Somebody takes a picture of a mighty waterfall in Uruguay and sends it via Google +, You Pic or Twitter, before you can say National Geographic Traveler.

The magazine is a survivor though. It realised that the internet is not going anywhere, so it decided that if you cannot beat them, join them.

You cannot miss the various publications of the yellow magazine, because it embraces all online tricks to keep it in the public eye, or should we say to keep in the public’s fingertips.

That is how families and people separated by oceans speak now, through their fingertips.

Nature Photography

It is hard to believe but the first issue in 1888, which cost 50 cents, did not have any photographs. It had maps, geological surveys and topographic models, things that caused me a lot of grief in high school Geography lessons.

The National Geographic Magazine – as it was called - was more of an academic journal, with articles in very high English, long sentences which looked like paragraphs and it was bound like a book.

I could not believe it when the library assistant at the Winnipeg Millennium Library brought it to me.

For example, the article Africa: Its Past and Future, published in 1889 – No. 2 was 25 pages long. There were no photographs. But then, photography was also in its infancy.

When I think of early photography, I see a man hiding under a black cloth, one hand poised with a big flash light, ready for action.

Photography became the magazine’s signature but it might have been by default. Photography improved, cameras became affordable and film stock could travel without being damaged.

Fuji, AGFA, Kodak and other manufacturers packaged the film in such a way that it could not be damaged by scanning devices at airports.

The magazine embraced the developments and their readers loved it. Up to today, some people refuse to take out their old copies to the curb, for garage sales.

It has been immortalized in films such as Aaja Nachle, where Madhuri Dixit’s character runs away with a National Geographic photographer.

Youth Photographers

People who access the magazine online are people who know the hard cover version, but there are millions of young people who grew up in the mobile phone culture.

They have not caressed the cover, flipped through to see full page photographs before finally soaking in every article just before bed.

They are the touch generation: touch screen Android phones: touch screen laptops, microwave ovens: the whole works.

They just touch their iPads, tablets or phones if they want to see a leopard draped over a branch, deciding on its next hit.


The magazine is aware that the youth is the future, future consumers that is. That is why it sponsors various competitions for young people and even has a kids’ magazine.

It will be interesting to look at the images young people capture when they travel the world. Older photographers sometimes produced photos which showed that they were mostly European and male resulting in readers interpreting them as ‘poor kids with no shoes in Africa’.

These images created problems for African students like Barack Obama's father in Europe and North America who had to respond to questions like, ‘Do you live in a tree?’ or ‘Did you buy these clothes when you arrived in the States?’

'The way the lens captures images, close-up of a child’s bones or cracked feet, determines how it will be interpreted.’ Nonqaba waka Msimang.

Will young photographers think it is funny to see a woman working in the fields topless or will they understand the cultural and climatic conditions she lives under?

Africa and National Geographic

The main magazine cannot have enough of Africa. The magazine’s contribution to stereotypes about Africa is ironic because its 1899 article was quite complimentary.

It mentioned the fallacy about Greek civilization and points out that it was actually Egyptian civilisation.

Stolen Legacy, written by Professor George G.M. James argues very convincingly why the Greeks could not have produced what is now regarded as Greek mythology. When in doubt, look at the pyramids. They are still there.

That 1899 article also stresses Africa’s size and complexity. It explains why white explorers died and why their mission was never 'civilisation.' The article was even brave enough to predict the continent’s future after Europeans leave.


There is no turning back for newspapers and magazines. The internet has put tombstones over many magazines. National Geographic has survived because it is a good driver who is able to change gears depending on road conditions.

The magazine's future lies in its ability to shed its racist past and let photographers in all countries tell their stories, be it African, Asian, north American or south American. The man behind the lens must speak the languages of the people he is capturing in his digital camera.

Failure to do this will render magazines such as National Geographic extinct because owners of the culture now have their own blogs, Facebook and Twitter to tell their own stories.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)