The 30 photographs in “The National Geographic Image Collection: Photographs of Social Life in Washington, D.C., 1900-1960” couldn’t be more different from what we’ve come to expect from National Geographic. The works at the Carroll Square Gallery are vintage black-and-white images taken in one city, not the crisp, mesmerizing color photographs of exotic locales we’ve come to know and love. Many of the images in the show were published in National Geographic magazine, but the general vibe is less weighty documentary photography than feature work from your friendly local paper: young people lounging poolside, adults out for a stroll, kids boxing at summer camp, buoyant faces watching a parade.
Of course, local newspaper photographers produce plenty of high-quality work, and this exhibit even offers a few surprisingly edgy visuals. An image from 1915 presents fancily dressed visitors waiting at the base of the Washington Monument, which appears in an unusually flat perspective; another from 1943 documents a minefield of gum stuck to a sharply diagonal sidewalk; and one from 1955 portrays a Georgetown gas station at night almost as dramatically as an Ed Ruscha painting. Some of the places and events depicted are of a bygone era, such as a crowded, World War II-era dormitory for women working for the government, but several images depict scenes that will be eerily familiar to current residents of D.C.: recreational activities on the Mall, the grand hall of Union Station, and floodwaters covering a road in Rock Creek Park.
Through Nov. 30 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 347-7978