December 11, 2023 | WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Nat Geo's new Instagram exhibit (Jason Fraley)
WASHINGTON — Photographs allow us to capture memories as they unfold and have the power to open our eyes to parts of the world that we have never imagined.
As a tribute to this powerful work, the folks at the National Geographic Museum in Northwest D.C. have teamed up with FotoWeekDC to host this year’s FotoWeekCentral (Nov. 12-20), a hub dedicated to celebrating art and photography, providing exposure for photographers worldwide.
Since the founding of the organization, the National Geographic Society’s photographs have brought awe and inspiration to many. Now, with the rising popularity of the media-sharing app Instagram, more and more people are capturing, viewing and sharing global moments than ever before.
National Geographic’s Instagram account, @NatGeo, was opened in 2012, and is now one of the app’s top-followed accounts, with more than 63 million followers and more than 1 billion likes on its 12,300 posts.
The @NatGeo exhibit displays more than 200 of the account’s most popular photographs, ranging from competitive water skiers to a glorious and haunting supermoon.
When visitors first walk into the @NatGeo exhibit, they are welcomed by a man-sized iPhone, displaying a magnified view of the @NatGeo Instagram account.
Alan Parente, creative director for exhibitions and global experiences at the National Geographic Society and curator of the @NatGeo exhibition, says that the layout of the exhibit’s design symbolizes how we get “lost” in social media.
“We created a maze,” Parente told WTOP. “We decided to shrink everyone down so that you’re actually entering the feed.”
The @NatGeo exhibit is a colorful, dazzling playground, featuring 30-foot-by-30-foot boxes stacked on top of each other in various themes around the room, displaying the Instagram photos and their corresponding descriptions in larger-than-life view.
The exhibit also offers eight little nooks where visitors can sit and look at each Instagram photo and hear the photographer’s description. If the photo strikes an emotional chord, visitors can actually record their own thoughts and feelings on the photo. Selected visitor recordings will be placed at the end of the original photographer’s recording, allowing visitors to become a part of the exhibit.
Kathryn Keane, vice president for exhibitions at the National Geographic Society, said the organization has also published a commemorative @NatGeo book as a hardback collection of all of the photographs displayed in the @NatGeo exhibit. Keane says the book “provides a photo show of the terrific and intrepid photographers who have defined this institution for so many years.”
National Geographic photographer fellow Cory Richards is the official spokesperson for the book and his work is prominently featured in the exhibit. He’s been working with the National Geographic Society since 2009. He became a photographer after overcoming a tumultuous adolescence and found that rock climbing and photography gave him a visual tool to document the human struggle.
Richards is enthusiastic about technology allowing people to instantly become photographers.
“Bring it on,” he said. “We need to see this exhibit as a fun, interesting, new way to engage … with social media, but also take it as a real time to stop, pause and think about the impacts these images have. They literally can change the planet, and I think this is a very beautiful reminder of exactly that.”
The @NatGeo book is on sale everywhere books are sold, including at the exhibit.
Tickets for the exhibits start at $15 and can be bought at FotoWeekCentral.