National Geographic : 1991 Dec
On Assignment "T 'm sure if Ibn Battuta were around today, he'd be working for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC," says senior writer TOM ABERCROM BIE. And who better to track the medieval traveler's tireless exploits than two of our most traveled staff members-Tom (right), turbaned and nuzzling a camel in the Sahara, and photographer JIM STANFIELD, clowning at a remote road sign near Timbuktu in Mali. The two have nearly 60 years of combined GEOGRAPHIC experience (Tom with 35, Jim with 24), but this was their first assignment together. Their paths originally crossed, how ever, in the 1950s in Wisconsin, where Abercrombie worked with Jim's father and uncle on the photo staff of the Milwaukee Journal. "I grew up with Tom's name around the house," says Jim, who followed him to the Journal,then to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. "Tom has been the one person on our staff I've always wanted to work with." PHOTOGRAPHSBY JAMESL. STANFIELD(ABOVE) ANDTHOMASJ. ABERCROMBIE Tom has specialized in the Middle East, learning Arabic and convert ing to Islam. In an odd footnote to that full career, he once hap pened across a half dozen of his photographs reproduced in a new medium-the currency of Yemen. Jim's drive to take pictures of places that people don't know much about and his talent for breathing life into bygone civilizations were powerful spurs in the Ibn Battuta coverage. Little-known beyond the Islamic world, the 14th-century Moroccan's tale was worth telling, Jim says, as "a way of educating A people so they realize there was someone other than Marco Polo." "Shooting Pittsburgh was like com- one of many guises a photographer ing full circle," says NATHAN BENN, must put on, Nathan documents a setting his camera aside after 18 day in a steel plant: "My work has years as a contract photographer for been a passport to enter the lives the GEOGRAPHIC. "When I was and cultures of others." growing up, W. Eugene Smith, who Nathan has co-founded a company did a pivotal photo essay on the city to combine electronic media with in the 1950s, was my hero. It's only archiving, distributing, and licensing right that this is my last assignment, still images. "Curiosity has been my at least for the foreseeable future." main motivation," he says, "and this In a heat-resistant suit (far right), new venture is an extension of it." ROBERTLUSCOMBE NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC (ISSN 0027-9358) IS PUBLISHEDMONTHLYBY THENATIONALGEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY,17THANDM STS. N.W ., WASHINGTON,D. C. 20036. $21.00 A YEAR,$2.65 A COPY. SECOND-CLASSPOSTAGEPAID AT WASHINGTON,D.C.,AND ELSEWHERE.POSTMASTER:SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC,P.O.BOX 2174,WASHINGTON,D.C. 20013.