Monday, September 15, 2008


National Geographic Photographers Reveal Their Unique Ideas of Heaven on Earth

WASHINGTON (Sept. 15, 2008)—Where — or what — is heaven on Earth? When that question was put to National Geographic's far-roaming photographers, their answers came back as varied and surprising as life itself. Their visual portrayals of what they regard as perfect or spellbinding are showcased in VISIONS OF PARADISE.

Enriched by the photographers' own recollections, each image is a compelling reflection of what is most divine in the world — and an inspiration for us to protect our beautiful and threatened planet.

"Paradise seems to be most likely in places that are remote, untouched, original, defined, organic, and just plain simple.... But paradise can also be a moment in time that is lost forever," writes editor Bronwen Latimer in her introduction.

Images by Stephen Ferry, Paul Chesley, Medford Taylor, Brian Skerry

The photographers' choices lead to realms as diverse as Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands, where Raymond Gehman found a natural paradise "so rich in everything — the life, the water, the forest, the can almost see things grow"; the rain forests of Borneo, where Tim Laman captured a spellbinding scene of three hornbills skimming the treetops; and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas, where Jim Richardson had a "smell-the-roses moment" when photographing a million fireflies amid the wild alfalfa one summer night. Flip Nicklin found perfection in whale watching in Hawaii; Gerd Ludwig felt the essence of freedom as a cyclist glided past in rainy Berlin; Eugene Richards found beauty in the relics and fallow landscapes of North Dakota ghost towns; Susie Post Rust proved that the act of breathing sea air in Ireland can be a heavenly sensation.

The images often reveal bliss in a mood, a moment, a ray of hope: Syrian children playing on beehive rooftops; a transfixing scene in a New York City park; undulating clouds that look like the wings of God; Darfur refugees eagerly awaiting a humanitarian airlift.

Paradise can be felt, found...and lost. Nick Nichols shares his heartache for Africa's Virunga National Park, where war and strife now permeate the forest. William Albert Allard contributes a Montana landscape altered by man but "good enough still to make one almost tremble at the thought of just how wonderful it must have been."

The book, featuring 155 images from 82 world-renowned photographers, is divided into three themes — land, water and air — each introduced by a noted writer. Linda Kulman outlines the important issues facing the land and how we need to change our ways to keep it healthy. Joel Bourne Jr. paints a bleak picture of the state of the world's water, but offers some hopeful solutions. Brian Doyle extols the miracles of air in a lyrical salute.

But if bliss is the air we take in, the water we long for, the lands we inhabit, what happens when paradise is no more? "To look at what we have done to heaven is startling," observes photographer Maggie Steber. In these galvanizing pictures, we find hope as well as urgency. VISIONS OF PARADISE urges us to see and take action, to make every effort to heal the environment and protect every precious place that feels like heaven on Earth.

VISIONS OF PARADISE is a sumptuous gift photography book in the tradition of National Geographic's "Through the Lens," "In Focus," Wide Angle" and "Work." Thought-provoking, life-affirming and visually breathtaking, this volume is for everyone who enjoys great photography and values the stunning natural wonder and diversity of our planet.

To coincide with the publication of the book, a nine-week National Geographic "Visions of Paradise" photo contest will be held starting in October. Photographers are invited to submit images that best represent their unique vision of heaven on Earth. Entries will be accepted from Oct. 21 through Dec. 21, 2008, and will be posted on the competition Web site at Each week, the general public can vote on their favorite images. Entries will also be judged by an expert panel of photographers and art directors. Three winners will be selected for each of the nine weeks of the competition, with the first week's winners announced on Nov. 3. Winners will receive a customized edition of VISIONS OF PARADISE with their photograph as the cover image.

An exhibit based on the VISIONS OF PARADISE book will be held at the Smith Farm Gallery, corner of 16th & U streets, Washington, D.C., from Oct. 29 to Nov 24.

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