In the course of its 130-year history, National Geographic Magazine (NGM) has ?ffered us some unique issues accompanied with some even more spectacular covers, that have held public attention over the years. The history of the magazine is closely interwoven with high professional photography and the art of capturing the mesmerizing moments unfolding in front of the eyes of experienced photographers.
The cover of the 1st issue of National Geographic magazine, back in 1888.
The first issue, published in 1888, featured a plain, cinnamon brown cover, with only some black typed letters. Seventy years after its founding, the National Geographic Society introduces the first colored photograph on the cover of its increasingly popular journal. The July 1959 issue features the new, 49-star banner of the US., since Alaska admitted to the Union 7 months earlier, in January 1959. Several articles and a map of the newest state is included as a supplement with the issue.
The first colored photograph on the cover of July 1959 cover.
Since then, readers have been treated to hundreds of covers that have transformed our understanding of the planet. National Geographic has been a pioneer in serving and caring for the lives of our planet with great passion.
Every cover has a story behind the story. It may be a tale of creative initiative, or of working in dicey circumstances, or of the kind of luck that goes hand in hand with years of experience and wisdom.
Here are some of the most spectating and iconic covers of Nat-Geo magazine and their backstories.
?Along Afganistan?s War-torn Frontier?. The cover of the June issue, in 1985.
The Afghan Girl (1985)
Drawn to her famously haunting yet haunted eyes, photographer Steve McCurry quickly drew two shots of a 12-year-old girl in the ?Nasir Bagh? refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan. ?I knew she had an incredible look, a penetrating gaze,? Steve McCurry recalls. ?But there was a crowd of people around us, the dust was swirling around, and it was before digital cameras and you never knew what would happen with the film. When I developed the picture, I knew it was special. I showed it to the editor of the National Geographic, and he leaped to his feet and shouted, ?that?s our next cover?.? Not only did ?Afghan Girl? become the magazine?s next cover, but undeniably the most successful in its long and distinguished history and one of the most recognizable photographs worldwide.
The young Afghan was an unsolved mystery for 17 years. Photographer Steve McCurry joined a National Geographic Television & Film team to methodically search for her. They showed her photograph around the refugee camp where McCurry had encountered her as a schoolgirl in December 1984. ?fter some false leads, a man who had also lived in the camp as a child recognized her. She had left the camp many years before and was living in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. He said he could find her, and three days later he and a friend brought her back to the camp. Her name was Sharbat Gula. There, the remarkable story of this woman began to be told.
Sharbat Gula, known as ?The Afgan Girl?, in 1985 and in 2002.Buzz Aldrin stands on the lunar surface. The cover of the December issue, in 1969.
First Explorers on the Moon (1969)
Neil Armstrong?s famous photo of Edwin ?Buzz? Aldrin walking across the surface of the moon ?lands? on the cover of National Geographic five months after the astronauts? historic voyage. One of the most iconic photos in the recent history of mankind. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin ?Buzz? Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon when Apollo 11 landed on our cosmic neighbor, making ?a small step for man, one giant leap for mankind?. The landing of ?Eagle? on the ?Sea of Tranquility? is the beginning of several successes of the major space programs that followed after. An estimated 600 million people watched the Apollo 11 landing live on television, a world record until the 750 million people watched the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana in 1981, showing the importance and the anticipation that people had for this great achievement.
?Conversations with a gorilla?. Cover of the 154th issue of National Geographic magazine.
Conversations with a Gorilla (1978)
Hanabiko ?Koko? was a female western lowland gorilla, was taught by researcher ? psychologist Penny Patterson, a large number of hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language (ASL). The gorilla after being directed to a mirror by a National Geographic editor, snapped a self-portrait with Ronald Cohn?s (research collaborator of Francine Patterson) camera. Patterson, met Koko at the San Francisco Zoo in 1971, when she was a 24-year-old graduate student at Stanford University. The following year she began teaching sign language to the baby gorilla as part of her Ph.D. project, which made Koko famous around the world for her ability to ?talk.? But over the course of 47 years, what started as a scientific experiment has evolved into an unconventional friendship.
?The Tallest Trees?. The cover of the October 2009 issue of Nat Geo magazine.
The Tallest Trees (2009)
National Geographic sent photographer Michael ?Nick? Nichols to spend an entire year in California?s redwood forest. His mission was to capture the majesty of some of the tallest trees on Earth. It took 3 weeks, , a large scientific team, a gyroscope, 84 images, and a rope-and-pulley system to make the October 2009 cover. The Redwood National and State Parks form one of the most significant protected areas of the Northern California coastal forests ecoregion, with rare flora and fauna and one of the most vital ecosystems in the US. The illustrated on the cover tree, was 91 meters tall and 1,500 years old and was an effort to sensitize the public about the vital importance of Redwood and a protest against unrestrained and intensive deforestation, that happens through the years.
?Planet or Plastic?? The latest cover of Nat Geo magazine, illustrated by Jorge Gamboa.
Planet or Plastic (2018)
National Geographic magazine launched a campaign, called Planet or Plastic, with the intention of putting a spotlight on the excessive use of plastic in our environment. By showing the terrible effects plastic has on our flora and fauna, Nat Geo hopes to change the ways consumers use plastic.
?For 130 years, National Geographic has documented the stories of our planet, providing audiences around the world with a window into the earth?s breathtaking beauty as well as to the threats it faces,? Gary E. Knell, CEO of National Geographic Partners, told the Daily Mail.
?Through the Planet or Plastic? initiative, we will share the stories of this growing crisis, work to address it through the latest science and research, and educate audiences around the world about how to eliminate single-use plastics and prevent them from making their way into our oceans.?
The tremendous cover, depicting an iceberg half ice half plastic bag, illustrated by Jorge Gamboa, is a visualization of the reality we?re globally facing. National Geographic launches the ?Planet or Plastic??, a multiyear initiative aimed at raising awareness of this challenge and reducing the amount of single-use plastic that enters in oceans.