Photographer's Life Changed By Nobel-Winning Work National Geographic's Annie Griffiths Belt has been personally affected by the breakthroughs in fiber optics and digital data transmission made by this year's winners of the Nobel Prize in physics. Griffiths Belt says the change wasn't easy, but it was extraordinary.
NPR logo

Photographer's Life Changed By Nobel-Winning Work

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113546436/113548700" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Photographer's Life Changed By Nobel-Winning Work

Photographer's Life Changed By Nobel-Winning Work

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113546436/113548700" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

We're going to hear now from someone whose life and work has been transformed by these Nobel Prize-winning scientists. Annie Griffiths Belt is a photographer for National Geographic. She's taken photos, digital photos, all over the world and she sent them home high-speed, thanks to fiber optic cables. Annie Griffiths Belt joins us now. Welcome to the program.

NORRIS: Thank you.

NORRIS: When did you make this transition to digital? Do you still have memories of walking across that line to the brave new world?

NORRIS: I have very clear memories of walking into the digital world, because photographers are like most people. We're reluctant to change things and I had an intimate relationship with film for 25 years. But about five years ago, I started making the switch because it was clear it was coming like a freight train, and anybody who wanted to continue to work had better get on board.

NORRIS: You say coming like a freight train. I take this was not just a gradual transition. It was more like an earthquake.

NORRIS: It was like an earthquake. In fact, I remember sitting at a photographic seminar at National Geographic when we as a group - the photographers - were presented with this new reality. And there were a lot of crossed arms and crossed...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: ...eyebrows because people who have been doing something the same way for years were skeptical first and then terrified. Two years later, it was pretty much everybody was digital.

NORRIS: And has it been liberating? I imagine that sort from a logistical point of view, it must make things much easier.

NORRIS: It does. I mean, it has been liberating in ways I couldn't possibly have imagined. For example, when I'm working in very remote parts of the world, I can, you know, get home, download things and send them via email, pictures of themselves. And so, in addition to taking the photographs, you can give something back.

NORRIS: I'm wondering, though, if you - if there's a but there. It's been liberating but.

NORRIS: There's a big but.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: If you lose...

NORRIS: There's a big but there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: I wonder if you lose some control because you're not necessarily processing the images yourself in a darkroom. And from what I understand, the printmaking process used to be a great source of pride for photographers.

NORRIS: Oh, the printmaking was a great source of pride and a great source of community, too. I mean, I really think the loss of the darkroom is a big loss. You know, that was the gathering spot where people would look over each other's shoulders and look at their images and give feedback. And there is a loss of control in that this digital information can be interpreted in so many different ways by someone who doesn't have that print or that transparency to look at to make sure that they're reproducing it accurately.

NORRIS: Can you describe for us a moment where digital technology and the ability to transfer those pictures via high-speed fiber optics cable hit home for you?

NORRIS: Oh, yeah. I mean, I remember specifically an image that I took on the top of Victoria Falls, where a piece of land emerged only at very, very low times in the river. So I went out with these wonderful guys, local guys who would go out there and swim actually in the swimming hole at the top of Victoria Falls. As we're about to leave, the sun was setting and I turned around and one of the guys was standing at the edge of the fall with this kind of spiritual body language. I remember trying to get the shot quickly. And then there was this sort of unbelievable feeling of that evening - having it and sending it to the editor. You know, one of the most beautiful, privileged photos I've ever taken, and it was in front of the editor that evening. And that was extraordinary to me.

NORRIS: It sounds sublime. I wonder if you could go in your files, send it off to us via...

NORRIS: Oh, easy.

NORRIS: ...fiber optic cables and we could post it on the Web so our listeners could take a look at it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: Oh, sure I can. Absolutely. No problem.

NORRIS: Well, Annie Griffiths Belt, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.

NORRIS: Thank you.

NORRIS: All the best to you.

NORRIS: You, too. Bye-bye.

NORRIS: And sure enough, soon after we talked, Annie Griffiths Belt sent us that photo from Victoria Falls within minutes. I'm looking at it now on the Web site. It is sublime. You can see it, too, at npr.org.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.