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Really, this is getting a little ridiculous: The annual rite of masochism known as National Geographic’s “Beyond the Story” is here again, and in the 2013 edition, the indignities visited upon the photographers in the service of images not published in the magazine are more absurd than ever.

Last year, Nat Geo photographers braved the following in the pursuit of roughly 1.5 million spiked images: venomous sea snakes, a fall from a horse caused by an overhead branch, an supercell storm with golf-ball sized hail, five weeks sleeping in caves, altitude sickness in Tibet, two layers of full-body veils in Yemen, and tear gas in Egypt. Truth be told, the images in this year’s exhibit are a bit less fantastic than in past years, but we are talking a ridiculously high threshold here.

Among the most memorable of this year’s crop are an image of a boy and his dog playing on top of a 14-ton mound of donated, but now moldering, clothes on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota; a portrait of a 3,200-year-old, 247-foot sequoia stitched together from 126 overlapping photographs; a still- and video project to document, Eadweard Muybridge-style, a running cheetah; and a landscape of swooping red striations in Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs.

But two animal images conjure the deepest reactions—-one of a huge rhino horn standing upright, ambivalently severed in order to save the animal from poachers, and the other of an employee of a Kenyan elephant orphanage who protects one of his young animals by sleeping next to him; the employee receives regular trunk checks from the apparently grateful animal. If these images are the rejects, I really hope the stuff that did get published totally rocked.

Through July 7 at National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th St. NW.  (202) 857-7588

Due to a reporting error, the original version of this post misidentified the name of the exhibit. It is called “Beyond the Story,” not “Behind the Story.”