The National Geographic Museum exhibit, “Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment,” begins with a somewhat odd declaration by the curator: “I cannot look at a photograph and tell you whether it was shot by a woman or by a man.” Of course not—-no one could. But as the text continues, the curator’s idea becomes clearer: “But I do know that the women whose work appears in this exhibit represent the kind of storytellers we need as we move deeper into this insatiably media-heavy age.” Indeed, among these images taken by women photographers, there’s a lot of fine storytelling—-not to mention great photography, burnished by an elaborate audio and video commentary track featuring the 11 photographers being spotlighted.
Amy Toensing captures senior citizens bathing on the Jersey Shore in churning grey-green waves ripped directly from a Winslow Homer painting, while Beverly Joubert impresses with a series of nature images: zebras in a landscape of watery reeds in Botswana; an up-close photograph of a leopard hiding among vegetation; and a tableau of elephants, lions, and doves sharing a dwindling water hole, putting the species in seemingly unnatural proximity.
Perhaps appropriately given the exhibit’s theme, the most consistent—-and disturbing—-thread is the worldwide mistreatment of women. If it’s not Jodi Cobb’s heavily made-up beauty pageant contestant still young enough to be in diapers or her Indian prostitutes penned up in cages, then it’s Stephanie Sinclair’s portrait of two child-bride couples—-an image made possible because the husbands think such pairings are so unremarkable that there’s no reason to hide from the camera.
On view to March 9 at the National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th St NW. (202) 857 7588. Tickets up to $11.