Venetian and Imagine Exhibitions unveil ’50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic’

Imagine Exhibitions President and CEO Tom Zaller describes the implications of this National Geographic photo of a dead albatross by David Littschwager and Susan Middleton. The photo reveals the contents of the dead bird's stomach: garbage produced by humans, including bottle caps and a lighter.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then 50 photographs is worth … well, I’ll let you do the math.

The “50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic” exhibit in the Imagine Exhibitions Gallery at the Venetian brings at least that many words to mind, but topping the list is: Powerful. Moving. Impressive. Thought provoking. Beautiful.

Featuring 50 of the most celebrated photos from National Geographic’s 125-year history as they appeared in the magazine, the exhibit also offers a bit of subtext behind these iconic images, including the photographers’ diverse methods for capturing each shot.

As you stroll through the 6,800-square-foot gallery, visceral imagery immerses you in different eras and cultures, weaving together stories from just about every corner of the globe.

Steve McCurry's famous snapshot of Sharbat Gula, a schoolgirl in an Afghan refugee camp in 1984 (left) and again 17 years later (right).

“Every piece of the world is here,” says Imagine Exhibitions President and CEO Tom Zaller. “These photographers dedicated their whole lives to their work. It’s a testament to technique and technology.”

Steve McCurry’s famous snapshot of Sharbat Gula, a schoolgirl in an Afghan refugee camp, hangs at the back of the gallery – as if watching from her intense green eyes over the rest of the exhibition. Zaller says he was always drawn to the “beautiful little girl with gorgeous eyes” and lobbied to also include a second image of Gula (taken 17 years later) in the Las Vegas exhibition.

While some photos, like that of Gula, were captured in an instant, others in the exhibit took days or even weeks to accomplish. Michael Nichols’ photo of a 300-foot tall Redwood tree in California is comprised of 84 images, utilizing help from seven people, tethering ropes between trees and a pulley system.

Many National Geographic photographers fearlessly stared death in the face to achieve their results such as Carsten Peter, who snapped a photo of a tornado in action in South Dakota, or Paul Nicklen, who took an icy dive into the Antarctic waters to capture images of a female leopard seal. Nicklen captured another more whimsical shot of polar bears underwater by shooting blind with an underwater camera from his 12-foot aluminum boat in Nanavut, Canada.

Photographer Brent Stirton went to the Dominican Republic of Congo to shoot photos of Congolese conservation rangers and ended up with a jarring shot as several men somberly recovered the body of a 500-pound endangered mountain gorilla who had been viciously executed.

Gerd Ludwig's photo of eight kids in Moscow, Russia was taken in a school gymnasium in 1993.

The exhibit contains innocent moments like Paolo Pellegrin’s timeless photo of girls floating in the Dead Sea in the West Bank of Israel. It also contains uncomfortable ones. For instance, at first glance, Gerd Ludwig’s photo of eight young children in undergarments may strike you as lewd or inappropriate. But, once you strip the photo down to its true meaning, you will likely have a different outlook.

You may not have noticed at first, but all eight children are missing their forearms due to a birth defect attributed to industrial pollution in the former USSR. Ludwig said he intentionally shot the children this way (with their mothers’ permission) so readers would see them as human beings and innocent kids first, before viewing them as victims of a social and political travesty.

“There are so many different layers to the photos in this exhibit,” says Zaller. “Everyone will be touched by something different.”

“50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic” is a limited engagement open daily in the Venetian’s Imagine Exhibitions Gallery. Click here to buy tickets.