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Imagine you’re National Geographic Society photographer Joel Sartore. You set up your gear inside a cave in Uganda, photographing a roost of 100,000 Egyptian fruit bats. You catch a dollop of fresh guano directly in your left eye. It’s hot and it burns. You check with the health authorities, and they tell you the cave you were shooting in is known to harbor Marburg virus, an Ebola-like disease that causes massive bleeding and is 90 percent fatal if treated in Africa. You undergo a strict, 21-day quarantine and, miraculously, survive.
And after all that, the magazine never runs your photograph of the bats.
This is merely the most recent example of the periodic festival of masochism that is Nat Geo’s “Beyond the Story: National Geographic Unpublished”—-an exhibit of nearly 60 images by 27 photographers that are stunningly good but, apparently, not quite good enough to make it into the magazine’s hallowed pages. Photographs like Sartore’s aerial image of cape buffalo cavorting in a crater lake, limned in shades of amber and speckled gray; David Guttenfelder’s photograph of a feral pig wallowing in a radioactive mud puddle on an abandoned street in post-nuclear-plant-disaster Japan; Stephanie Sinclair’s awkward image of a six-year-old child bride and her 25-year-old husband; Jonas Bendiksen’s moody image of a child walking through a sodden landscape in Bangladesh; and Randy Olson’s time-lapse photograph of the Churchgate rail station in Mumbai (familiar from the closing Bollywood sequence of Slumdog Millionaire) in which commuters move as if they were a school of fish (below). I can’t figure out why the photographers put up with their editors’ slights. But fortunately for visitors, all we have to do is enjoy some first-rate photography.
The exhibition is on view 10 a.m to 6 p.m. daily to July 29 at the National Geographic Museum’s M Street gallery, 1145 17th Street, NW.