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'National Geographic' Celebrates 125 Years Of Photography

This month, National Geographic magazine celebrates its 125th anniversary in a special issue devoted to the power of photography. "The Photo Issue" features images spanning the organization's storied career.

Here, The Picture Show features a selection of images from the anniversary issue, as well as a few highlights from the magazine's photographic history.

Steve McCurry's iconic photograph of a young Afghan girl in a Pakistani refugee camp appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine's June 1985 issue and became the most famous cover image in the magazine's history. Steve McCurry/Courtesy of National Geographic hide caption

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Steve McCurry/Courtesy of National Geographic

Steve McCurry's iconic photograph of a young Afghan girl in a Pakistani refugee camp appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine's June 1985 issue and became the most famous cover image in the magazine's history.

Steve McCurry/Courtesy of National Geographic
  • 1888: The National Geographic Society is founded in January, and the first issue of National Geographic magazine is published in October.
  • 1889: The first photograph in National Geographic magazine, depicting a relief map of North America, appears in the third issue.
  • 1890: The first photograph of a natural scene — generally considered the first real photograph in the magazine — is a glimpse of Herald Island, taken from the deck of a ship and appearing in the July issue.
  • 1908: More than half of the magazine's pages are photographs.
  • 1914: The first autochrome, or natural-color photograph, to appear in the magazine is published in the July issue. It depicts a flower garden in Ghent, Belgium. In the same issue, the Society publishes its first photograph by a female photographer, Eliza Scidmore.
  • 1937: National Geographic pioneers the use of 35 mm Kodachrome film, and methods to engrave and print from it. It will be many years before the rest of the publishing industry follows.
  • 1959: The first photograph featured on the magazine cover is of the 49-star American flag, honoring Alaska's entry into the United States, in the July issue.
  • 1969: James P. Blair undertakes an assignment to cover pollution. His images, published in the December 1970 issue, mark a major shift away from pretty pictures and toward unsettling, photojournalistically strong images.
  • 2003: The first "all-digital" assignment for National Geographic magazine, "What's Next in the Air," shot by contributing photographer Joe McNally, is published in the December issue.
  • 2013: Michael "Nick" Nichols uses a robotic, remote-controlled camera as well as a microcopter to capture unique close-up images of lions in the Serengeti for the August issue.
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To complement the release of the issue, National Geographic has also unveiled a new photo blog called Proof.

Correction Oct. 1, 2013

A previous version of this post incorrectly said that the first photograph appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1943. The first photograph appeared on the cover in 1959.