Photographer's Peripatetic Life Is a Family Affair National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths Belt didn't let motherhood put her career on hold. In a new book, the award-winning photographer shares how she managed motherhood and global adventure during her 30-year career at the magazine.

Photographer's Peripatetic Life Is a Family Affair

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Annie Griffiths Belt is an award-winning National Geographic photographer. On her travels around the world for the past 30 years, she has had the occasion to pack her camera gear and diapers. The diapers served a dual purpose: Belt's children, Lily and Charlie, often traveled with her.

One hundred fifty of her photographs are featured in her recently-released book, "A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel." Annie Griffiths Belt is in the studio to talk about life through a lens and life on assignment. Welcome to the program.

Ms. ANNIE GRIFFITHS BELT (Photographer): Thank you.

HANSEN: You really packed your cameras and diapers.

Ms. BELT: I did. They're the best packing material I have ever found. I mean, I actually - I must say - even after the kids were out of diapers, there were a couple of times where one diaper would fit a certain lens so perfectly I continued to use them.

HANSEN: Your children are 18 and 15 now.

Ms. BELT: Yes.

HANSEN: How old were they when some of the photographs in this book were taken?

Ms. BELT: Well, Lily traveled to 13 countries in utero. So, it was from day one. We were the traveling family.

HANSEN: A lot of the photographs we experienced in National Geographic are objective. It's through the lens, it's of the landscape of the subject of the photo, wherever the photographer has visited. Why did you want to publish -which is really a little bit more of a subjective collection of photos based on your life as a photographer and as a mother and as a wife.

Ms. BELT: That's a great question. You know, the truth was when I was asked to do a retrospective, I felt that I had been in a unique position as a young woman. I was the youngest photographer when I came to Geographic and I was one of the first women. And then I went on after working there for several years to marry and have children and to figure out a way to fit my career into their lives, and it worked.

I still, when I'm speaking, get a question almost every time from a young woman who wants to know, well, can you really do this? Can I really follow this dream I have? And so this book is for those women. And it isn't necessarily even for photographers, but for any woman who's trying to find balance.

HANSEN: Were you always a natural behind the lens? Was that always what you did, wanted to do?

Ms. BELT: Oh, no. I didn't even pick up my first camera until I was a junior in college.

HANSEN: Really?

Ms. BELT: Yes. I actually audited a course to learn how to use the camera. And so I started working for the school paper, which happened to be a terrific paper at the University of Minnesota. And from there I went to a little regional daily that had a great photo history, and by 25 I was at Geographic.

HANSEN: Let's start with the cover. I mean, there's a haunting photograph of a young girl who's wearing the batik head scarf with purple and green in it and she seems to be leaning against her mother who's wearing an even brighter outfit. Where was this picture taken?

Ms. BELT: This picture was taken out in the middle of nowhere, Pakistan. And it's interesting that you mention the beauty of the way they are dressed. Because, you know, I went and I always try to adjust to a culture, so I made sure I was modest. So I had these awful army green pants and this big fat work shirt so that I was covered in a dreadful scarf.

And I would go off to these places where there was absolute poverty and yet every woman and every girl was so beautifully dressed that that was a real priority. And I have never felt uglier. In fact, at one point when I was sitting with a group of these women, the guy that I was traveling with started laughing, and they were all laughing. And I said, okay. What's going on.

And she said, they want to know if you're a man or a woman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BELT: And then, of course, I showed them a picture of my kids and suddenly we could relate.

HANSEN: There was one here. It's a young Israeli boy and he's playing with a gun, the Golan Heights in Israel. Tell us how you came to get that.

Ms. BELT: That is the Syrian border, and what you're seeing there is a place called the Shouting Mountain. And during one of the wars, the people in Israel were cut off from the people in Syria. So they come to this spot, the closest spot to their friends and sometimes family, and they literally take a megaphone - you can see one of the women is holding a megaphone…

HANSEN: Oh, yeah.

Ms. BELT: …and they call back and forth over the DMZ basically. And it's this wonderful, you know. You'll hear from Syria and then the women standing there will call back. And this musical exchange of greetings because at that time they couldn't even use phones to reach each other.

HANSEN: So, the young man has a gun, what, to shoot it off to let people know they're there?

Ms. BELT: It's actually it's a little boy and it's a toy gun…

HANSEN: Toy gun.

Ms. BELT: …and he's just sort of emulating what he sees around him.

HANSEN: All right. Now, where is the photo of British men.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: There we are.

Ms. BELT: (Unintelligible).

HANSEN: Now, what is this? I mean, you seem to (unintelligible)…

Ms. BELT: Oh, I have a thing for British men.

HANSEN: You do?

Ms. BELT: I even married one.


(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And you…

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And the title is British men.

Ms. BELT: Yes.

HANSEN: I mean, this is the - all right. Look at them - older men resplendent in their Harris tweeds. And this man here is in Northern England.

Ms. BELT: Yes.

HANSEN: And why is he holding what looks to be - what is that? A mouse?

Ms. BELT: It's a mouse. They're all holding mice, in fact. This is the Calder Valley Mouse Club, and these gentlemen literally raise mice in a little, you know, in a little hut in their back garden and then on a weekly or monthly basis they meet and they show their mice in they actually have competition. So, you're looking at champ there.

See, that's a very, very good tail. And the spots are nicely placed. And to me that is just so British.

HANSEN: And we have the British - here we are.

Ms. BELT: Lamb sale.

HANSEN: The lamb sale.

Ms. BELT: Yeah.

HANSEN: And look at that man clutching a pipe between his teeth with a young…

Ms. BELT: And he (unintelligible) because he - this is Mr. O'Sullivan and he's an Irish farmer. The child on his back is his 11th, and the picture was taking the day his 12th came home from the hospital.

HANSEN: These photographs really do go around the world. I mean, you go from England to Ecuador through Israel, all of these places. Where do you go from here?

Ms. BELT: Well, the next place I'm going to be working is Spain in June and then I'll be in Australia in July. So, you know, I always have wonderful trips to look forward to. I'm really, really lucky.

HANSEN: Do Lily and Charlie still want to go with you?

Ms. BELT: They do, and they do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BELT: Lily is going to Spain with me in June. You know, they're at an age now where I can't take them out for a couple of months at a time as I used to. But they still go on the shorter ones and they count in the summertime.

HANSEN: Annie Griffiths Belt is a National Geographic photographer and her new book is called "A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel." Thanks for coming in.

Ms. BELT: Thank you.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.