Editor’s Note
October 2013
Picture This
This image of women in Lhasa was among the first ever published in the Geographic.
Russian Geographical Society/
National Geographic Creative

Readers of National Geographic’s first issue can be forgiven for not being thoroughly captivated. The magazine that debuted in 1888 was a drab scientific publication of 98 pages wrapped in a plain brown cover. Several meteorological maps broke up the drone of black-and-white print. Articles included “The Classification of Geographic Forms by Genesis” and “The Survey of the Coast.”

And that’s how it pretty much remained for 16 years, until 1904, when the magazine’s printer told Editor Gilbert H. Grosvenor that he had 11 pages to fill. Grosvenor grabbed a package from the Imperial Russian Geographical Society containing some of the first photographs of Lhasa, Tibet, which was then considered one of the world’s most exotic places. He selected 11 and sent them to the printer, certain he would be fired and ridiculed. When the issue came out in January 1905, the opposite happened. People stopped Grosvenor on the street to congratulate him. So it was that photography, the hallmark of National Geographic and the most immediate means of communicating with our readers, came to the magazine. It was born out of desperation—and risk.

It is 125 years later, and we still take risks. Risk is part of creativity. That and our photographers’ passion and commitment are as much a part of their gear as the camera.

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