TO NOV. 2

Choosing the greatest photographs from National Geographic magazine would seem to be an almost comically quixotic project. And while “Through the Lens”—a low-key assemblage of 40 images at the National Geographic Society’s headquarters—purports to do just that, it is too limited, skews too recent, and includes too many subpar images to present a comprehensive assembly of the society’s finest. Still, given the top-drawer skills of the photographers, the exhibition offers a number of visual gems. (A photograph of Japanese snow monkeys by Tim Laman is pictured.) In one image, an arctic wolf is caught leaping gracefully from one ice floe to another; another photograph captures a Libyan woman, robed head to toe, framed by striking overhead patterns of fluorescent lights. The aquatic photographs are a special delight: David Doubilet’s underwater image of jellyfish drifting through green water is as eerie as any Dali canvas; Frans Lanting deftly captured the swirling momentum of water in his depiction of Snares crested penguins. James P. Blair photographed water buffalo partially (and artily) submerged in a milky stream; Flip Nicklin, shooting from below, captured divers surrounding a strikingly backlit manta ray. But one image by Cary Wolinsky stands out: four shelves of cane toads drying in a taxidermy shop, their mouths shut in similar fashion using clothespins that approximate beaks. The photograph offers the perfect mix of formalism and absurdism—and, perhaps, a bracing homage to William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1840s-era calotypes of his book-filled library shelves. The show is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, to Sunday, Nov. 2, at National Geographic’s Explorers Hall, 17th and M Streets NW. Free. (202) 857-7588. (Louis Jacobson)