Several hundred people sat rapt in the darkness of Campbell Hall at UC Santa Barbara on Sunday, taking in captivating images from National Geographic photojournalist Annie Griffiths, who showcased dozens of iconic photographs from throughout her career.
In spite of having flown in from Morocco just hours before, Griffiths was a winsome storyteller as she showed images taken among the 100 countries she’s traveled to for her magazine work.
Griffiths was one of the first female photojournalists to work for National Geographic, and later traveled on assignment with her two children.
Publications like National Geographic and LIFE Magazine were plentiful in Griffiths’ childhood home, but she first discovered photography while studying at the University of Minnesota when she audited a photo class.
One of her first assignments in the class was to photograph light, which took her to a quiet golf course at sunrise. Lying on her somach, Griffiths captured a black and white image of early morning sunlight piercing through a tree.
“I was completely enchanted,” she said.
The golf course sprinklers came on shortly after, but Griffiths was unfazed.
“I was cold, wet and ecstatically happy,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is the way I want to feel the rest of my life’.”
Griffiths began working as a photojournalist at the Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe, where “it was such a great way for me to learn that there are pictures everywhere.”
Her first trip out of the country on assignment with National Geographic took her to Namibia, and she recalled taking a Polaroid camera out of her bag to photograph three women in the desert.
As the photo developed before their eyes, “it dawned on me that they had never seen their own faces before,” Griffiths said. “It was this delightful revelation to me.”
The UCSB audience indulged in images as varied as an aerial photo of a graceful arc of white pelicans against muddy browns of the Mississippi River to frenetic whirling dervishes in Turkey.
Earning people’s trust enough to tell their story is something Griffiths learned to appreciate right away.
“It’s really touching how quickly people will let you into their lives,” she remarked.
Griffiths traveled to 13 countries while pregnant with her first child, and even spent about five years with both of her children while on assignment in the Middle East.
Being a female photojournalist in the Middle East was a “huge advantage” because, Griffiths said, she was given access into the female world in a way that her male colleagues never would have gained.
“So often a big part of journalism is earning the right to be there, but once you’re there, it’s magic,” she said.
Griffiths’ appearance Sunday was second in a series of four talks from National Geographic photographers hosted by UCSB Art & Lectures. The next National Geographic Live! event is March 3 and features polar explorer Børge Ousland. On April 7, underwater photographer Brian Skerry is featured. Click here for more information.