Arts Beat: Visual Force

The 'Women of Vision' photography exhibit at Orlando Museum of Art offers a stunning emotional journey.



Prostitutes, who are known as cage girls and are often sex slaves, display themselves on a street in Mumbai, India, in this photo by Jodi Cobb.

Jodi Cobb, from National Geographic 'Women of Vision' exhibit

It was the powerlessness that hurt Jodi Cobb the most. Not just theirs. Hers.

“I couldn’t help any of the people I met, though I desperately wanted to,” she says.

Cobb is a National Geographic magazine photographer. The people she met were slaves. It took her a year, traveling from Bosnia to Mumbai to Tel Aviv, to capture the images that illustrated a 2003 story about millions of people around the world who are victims of human trafficking.

It took her another year to get over the experience. It may take you a while to get over it, too.

Cobb’s photos are among the more than 100 images, ranging from breathtaking to heart-rending, on display at the Orlando Museum of Art through April 24 in Women of Vision, an exhibit capturing the works of 11 of National Geographic’s photographers, all of them women.

It’s one thing to see such powerful images while sifting through the pages of the iconic magazine. It’s another experience altogether to see them in the full-blown and well-orchestrated array of this traveling exhibit.

Even before it opened last weekend, OMA's display of Women of Vision got an early, one-sentence review from an eminently creditable source. “This is the most beautiful installation yet of this show,'' said Kathryn Keane, vice president for National Geographic installations, who traveled to Orlando, along with Cobb, for OMA festivities to celebrate the opening.

Apart from the images, which range from Diane Cook’s evocative urban landscapes to Erica Larsen’s intimate, painterly studies of isolated populations who still live close to nature, the exhibit is interpersed with video and audio stations that give you a sense of the personalities and perils of the photographers and the inner workings of the magazine.

Though it goes unspoken, there’s a dramatic irony in that. Like any print publication these days, National Geographic has its challenges. The magazine is under new ownership, which recently enacted a spate of staff layoffs.

I’m wondering how many of us trace the beginnings of our fascination with the world around us to National Geographic. I do. I remember poring through stacks of  the magazine that I discovered in the basement of my childhood home. Now, sadly, there is an irony to a National Geographic tribute in a museum: It may well be just as imperiled as the subjects in many of its photos.

The exhibit is sponsored by The PNC Financial Services Group. For details go to omart.org/exhibitions/women_of_vision and wovexhibition.org/

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