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The National Geographic Museum has some nerve. Like a grinning overachiever, Nat Geo dazzles us with gorgeous, seemingly effortlessly made photographs from far-flung locales, all but dripping with gravitas and insight. Then what does the museum do? It mounts “Beyond the Story: National Geographic Unpublished,” an exhibit of outtakes from those photographic journeys—and they’re still jaw-droppingly good. The exhibit is relatively light on the society’s classic nature work and deeper in the sociology of place—a real-life Mormon splinter community akin to Juniper Creek from the HBO series Big Love; the South African township of Soweto in transition; and the repressive corners of Afghanistan, where simply being a woman can be a Kafkaesque proposition. Yes, yes, all these smart, weighty photo essays come with lovely imagery, but a couple stand out even within this elite group—images that explain the impossibly dire drinking water situation in Ethiopia, and portraits of the wild animal trade, legal and illegal, in Indonesia, including a harrowing image of a lizard being skinned. Go see the exhibit—and be reminded of how much of an underachiever you actually are.

THE EXHIBIT IS ON DISPLAY 9 A.M. TO 5 P.M. DAILY AT THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MUSEUM, 1145 17TH ST. NW. FREE. (202) 857-7588.