National Geographic : 1995 Aug
Robert Kincaid, Imaginary Hero, caught the attention of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC edi tors because of a photograph he took for a calen dar. When he called the maga zine, he was told: "We're ready for you anytime." Our troops hoot at that one. "Nothing against calendar shots, but ours is a different game," says Kent Kober steen, associate direc tor of photography. He means that a single photograph- no mat ter how beautiful-isn't a foot in the door. "We need to see an entire body of work. We're looking for real moments of real people doing real things." Competition for space in the magazine is unbelievably fierce. Each year we receive hundreds of story ideas. Each year we publish about 70. Even with the most promising portfolio, the path to the GEOGRAPHIC is paved with heartbreak. To test a young photographer named David Alan Harvey, now retired director of photog raphy Bob Gilka sent him to Cooperstown, New York, on a trial assignment. After three weeks, Harvey sent in his film. "Dave, I'm glad you're young and strong, because what I have to tell you is going to make you feel sick and old," Gilka's letter began. He was right: The coverage had been superficial "postcard photography," and both of them knew it. Years later on his first assignment- Tangier Island-Harvey got it right. For David Doubilet, an un derwater photographer, Gilka was the lord of nightmares. "There is nothing new here," Gilka rumbled after re viewing the best of Doubilet's early work. Doubilet slunk out. A year and many new pic tures later Doubilet got his first assignment. Then another. And another. After 24 years he has 38 stories to his credit. The job never gets easier. "An assignment is a mighty mountain that you climb, most ly alone," says Sam Abell, a staff photographer. "The older I get, the more the mountain seems to incline backward over my head. It doesn't become smaller. It becomes taller."