Anniversary Post: National Geographic Breasts

Zulu MarriageOn this day in 1896, National Geographic printed its first ever image of a bare female breast. That’s of some interest because when I was young, that seemed to be the whole point of the magazine: to provide boys with the opportunity to see what breasts looked like. It was only later that I realized that it actually did some of the best photojournalism ever. The last time I checked, it was still a great magazine.

But I do find the disconnect strange. It is certain that the people at National Geographic understood this. There is no question but that most societies don’t have the breast phobia that we do. So breasts are not usually hidden away. And it would be deceptive to present these women covered up. But I suspect that the reason that the society was okay with it was almost entirely racist. It was all right to have partly naked people because they were somehow less than human — in the sense that the apex of humanity was Victorian dress and behavior and mores.

For the record, the image is of a Zulu bride and groom on their wedding day. They don’t look any more happy than people getting married today. I really do think that people should get rid of photographers in their weddings. I don’t think I’ve been to a wedding where a photographer was not staging reality rather than chronicling it. At least this couple was made miserable for a good cause.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

23 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: National Geographic Breasts

  1. My final stupid-typing-session of my recent stupid-typing-session binge:

    So, my kid brother was getting married. Quite possibly out of mere courtesy, he wrote me for advice on wedding photography, vaguely remembering I’d been into all that film/photography jazz once upon a time.

    I wrote back. Wedding photographers are ripoff artists with no special skills besides having the gall to list themselves as “wedding” photographers in the phone book. My advice was, go to a Sears Portrait Studio for the formal dress photos, then just buy a bunch of disposable cameras and hand them out to guests. Way cheaper than a “wedding photographer” and probably better photographs to boot.

    This was the only advice I dispensed about Wedding Photography. I thought it was clever advice, and expected it to be ignored.

    So it was a little surprising, two days before the wedding, to get a phone call from his fiancee. “John wants to know what time you’ll be there for the wedding photos.” Huh? Why would I be in wedding photos? Oh, no. The question was, since I was The Official Wedding Photographer, when would I be there for all the family formal shoots?

    Oh, dear. Yes, I had plane tickets for the day of the wedding. No, I was not going to be the Official Wedding Photographer. I’m afraid this miscommunication cost my brother quite a bit of money, as he had to hire an Official Wedding Photographer at last-minute prices.

    Eh. He’s richer than your average GOP Presidential candidate. He could afford it.

    • He should have flown you out and paid for you. At both my weddings, we passed out disposable cameras to people. It didn’t work well. People are terrible photographers. I would hire someone from a local newspaper and just tell them to document it the same way they would an earthquake. Get nice pictures, but don’t get in the way. I like the idea of everyone going to a studio to get those kinds of photos too. Or you could use the guests, but you would need to pick people who knew a bit about photography.

      So, are you a photographer?

      • Oh no, what a disaster! Maybe the best solution is to hire photogs AND pass out amateur cameras, get the best of both. I’m not sure weddings are worth chronicling, anyway.

        Yeah, I used to be really into photography. Spent hours in the darkroom with smelly chemicals and such. And, since I’m in sharing mode, I loved B&W photography so much I wasted years of my youth working on B&W filmmaking. Nights at a convenience store. Days shooting on 16MM. And it was junk trash nonsense badly-written shit. That happens, sometimes.

        One thing, a useless thing, I got from those years was an understanding of how some visuals are compelling and some aren’t. Not that it matters. But there is a serious difference between how Steven Spielberg or David Lean compose images and how J.J. Abrams composes them. One is thoughtful, the other random with flashy bits.

        Doesn’t mean anything to anybody. There is the last of the great cinematographers, Roger Deakins, continuing to do amazing work, but he’s old and he’ll eventually die.

        • I wish I had known you when I was younger. I used to own a CP-16R (technically I still do; just can’t seem to find the guy I loaned it to — Marc Burgio). I shot, but never fully edited a short film about a young physics professor who loved baseball. But he never got any respect walking around in a baseball cap. So he bought a fedora and turned into a serial killer and everyone respected him. It was alternatively titled “Dress for Respect” and “Eliot Gets a Hat.” I found that I loved writing screenplays, but I’m not visual enough for directing. I don’t like the actual filmmaking. Maybe someday we’ll meet up and create “Old Guys Films.”

          • That would be a fairly interesting short film although why would he become a serial killer after switching hats?

          • Yes that is too bad! I loved framing images and getting shots in the can, just wasn’t any good at writing interesting stories. I love “Eliot Gets A Hat.” Creepy, but true. A little like “An American Tragedy,” which, if I remember right, is about a poor guy who ends up a murderer because he can’t quite afford the clothing item which would allow him to get better jobs.

      • I agree with Frank-if he wanted you to be the photographer he should have said so and paid for you to appear early.

        Having presided over something like 825 weddings, most people these days just have the family and friends give them the 904,870,834,097 pictures taken on their phones. It works out since most of the time no one is in a visually interesting place anyway although I think the most beautiful wedding I did was on the top of South Mountain at sunset. Or the one at the Hole in the Rock the night of a full moon.

        • Yeah, it’s different now. You can take photos with yer phone. Also have something to look at during the interminable church service. (Bring book to church = evil. Bring phone to church = normal.)

        • We are having a justice of the peace marry my niece this Tuesday. I’m down helping. Even with that it is turning out to be a lot of work!

    • That’s too bad. Of course, making money isn’t hard. They have a lot of subscribers. It’s a question of how much money he requires. He’s a perfect example of the “profit over all” or “greed is good” philosophy of modern capitalism. It’s interesting: ISIS destroys great art of the past because of their religious dogma. Capitalists do the same thing for their free market dogma. But we have defined the latter kind of dogma as good and we never discuss it — in the mainstream anyway.

      • I would say we (and by “we” I mean mainstream discussions in the United States) have done more than define it as “good.” We’ve defined it as a fact of nature, to the point where questioning whether it’s good or bad is moot. To many, the idea that people will pursue profit above all is a law of nature.

        • Too true — and a “good” law of nature at that. After all, we don’t take our kids to zoos and throw them in the lion cages because “lions eat people when hungry” is a good law of nature. (Strangely, we think destroying habitat for lions in the wild for profit is a “good” law of nature.)

        • Right. That is a big problem. This is the fall back for libertarians. When you show that there is nothing deductive about it and it doesn’t lead to good outcomes, they run to it being “natural.”

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