Readers have glimpsed faces of the world in the pages of National Geographic for over 130 years. Far more than pictures of lips, eyes and skin, these images are portraits of global cultures. A hallmark of the magazine’s photography, the portraits pull aside the curtain to reveal a hint of the subject’s inner spirit, captured in 1/400th of a second. The finest portraits reveal the photographer’s spirit as well. When Cory Richards photographed the elderly Sherpa Woman, he saw a peaceful, strong woman of the Himalayas whose age had carved silky rivers of wrinkles onto her skin. He wanted to embrace the beauty of her age through his lens. Richards sought to honor this woman’s story with his portrait.
Eighty years earlier, B. Anthony Stewart made one of National Geographic’s most iconic portraits, Coal Miner, Omar, West Virginia, 1937. Stewart was on assignment in West Virginia for a story on the ‘miracle’ fossil fuel coal. He visited small mining towns to spend time with the miners and their families, observing the rhythm of their days and nights. In a single image, Stewart captured the world of a miner in this hard-working man’s intensity and weariness. Like Richard’s Sherpa Woman, Stewart’s portrait honors this Everyman’s story.