National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah, 2008. © Jim Richardson/National Geographic Stock
Northern Spotted Owl, California, 2009. © Michael Nichols/ National Geographic Stock
American Indian Beauty Pageant Winner, Oregon, 1997. © William Albert Allard/National Geographic Stock

National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West

September 28, 2013 to December 31, 2013

Throughout its 125-year history, National Geographic has published photographs of the American West that both support and defy romantic notions of the land and its peoples. Taken together, these images form a sort of cultural commons for popular understanding of the region. While its editorial coverage spans destinations across the globe, National Geographic consistently returns to the West and highlights the importance of the region to human imagination.

In this special exhibition, wide open spaces, spectacular rock formations, and the cowboy life are examined alongside struggles for limited natural resources, Native American cultural continuity, and new energy sources. The selection – which includes photographs by Sam Abell, Ansel Adams, William Albert Allard, Edward Curtis, David Alan Harvey, William Henry Jackson, Sarah Leen, and Joe Sartore, among many others, drawn from the significant holdings of the National Geographic Archive, offers a broad understanding of a region that has long captivated photographers.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West: Capturing 125 Years of Majesty, Spirit and Adventure, produced by Rich Clarkson, former director of photography at National Geographic magazine, with a foreword by James McNutt, president and CEO of the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States.

“The role of photography in creating and perpetuating beliefs and understandings about the West has been continuous and evolving,” writes McNutt. “Beginning with adventurous pioneers in the field and never ceasing to the present day, photography accumulated an enormous record of change beyond the 100th meridian.”

National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West invites visitors on a visual journey through the history of America. Each section of the exhibition (and  book) focuses on a different aspect of the American West and its importance to our national identity. “Legends,” portrays some of the cowboys, Native Americans and landscapes that define the vast area. “Encounters” showcases the interactions among the people of the West, visitors and wildlife. “Boundaries” features places where endless skies, boundless plains, and dramatic mountains meet natural and manmade limits. “Visions” explores the growth of the American West and where its story may go in the future.

The American West was organized with the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States and Museums West; Presented by the Mays Family Foundation; Traveled by National Geographic. The exhibition is made possible at the JSMA with the generous support of the Coeta and Donald Barker Special Exhibitions Endowment, The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, and JSMA members.