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Photos: National Geographic’s ‘50 Greatest Photographs’ at The Venetian are actually 51


Tom Donoghue/

National Geographic’s “50 Greatest Photographs” exhibit at The Venetian on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Imagine Exhibitions President and CEO Tom Zaller and Robin Leach are pictured here.

50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic

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National Geographic's "50 Greatest Photographs" exhibit at The Venetian on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

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Photo of a Steve McCurry image in National Geographic's "50 Greatest Photographs" exhibit at The Venetian

They are National Geographic’s most remembered and celebrated photos from its 125-year history, and they are spellbinding. The stunning and breathtaking images went on display at Imagine Exhibitions gallery in The Venetian last week.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: The exhibit is promoted as the 50 greatest, but in fact, if you count them as you walk around, there are 51. I’ll tell you that story below. Contributing photographer Tom Donoghue captured the exhibit for today’s impressive gallery; they tell our story better than any words I can write.

We posted a preview of the exhibit on Jan. 30. I took a private tour with Tom Zaller, president and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions, before last week’s opening. The exhibit is here for the year and is a must-see for visitors, locals and students.

The photos are at once sad and sensational. They are the work of a split second of time, but after hours, sometimes weeks, of trekking and preparation. They evoke inspiration and awe. There are heartbreaking tearjerkers hidden among these photographic gems, but also emotional highs and happiness.

It is an exhibit that commands attention. You might think you’ll see it all in 15 to 20 minutes, but I guarantee that three hours later, you’ll still be transfixed. These are stunning photos of people’s lives and moments in nature with animals on land and underwater. They capture defining events that are iconic.

Many of the images also feature the “near frames” taken before and after the displayed shot. Each one creates a sensation or emotion as you study it. There are videos documenting what it took to get the photo, and the untold story behind each photo also is set out within the frames:

*The innocent children of a nuclear-ravaged Russian village born with left arm stumps and no hand.

*The dissected dead bird in Hawaii shown with the contents in its stomach eaten from the sea discarded as garbage by cruise ship passengers -- including lighters and cans.

*The frozen tundra of Siberia where the photographer had less than a split second to take the shot before his fingers froze.

*A lion scorched in a desert sandstorm.

*The Peruvian boy mourning his sheep wounded by a hit-and-run taxi driver.

*The never-before-seen view of Mecca by Thomas Abercrombie.

*The image of Jane Goodall and her chimpanzees by Nick Nichols.

The adventures the photographers tell are compelling, terrifying and humorous. Many are unbelievable, the lengths they went to in getting one of the 50 Greatest Photos. They were visionaries who believed that photography had the power to show important truths about the world.

But, as I said, there are actually 51. Tom wanted one other photo to show as a comparison, so check out the unforgettable Steve McCurry photo of the Afghan girl with those piercing eyes. He was on assignment at an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan when he caught sight of the young girl and snapped her picture. It wasn’t until it was developed did he realize the treasure he’d caught. It went on to become one of the most famous and recognizable National Geographic photos.

Seventeen years later, Steve returned to Pakistan to track her down. Against all odds, he finally succeeded in finding her for the 51st photo of her holding the original cover shot. Now grown, with children of her own, her face shows the toll of years of a grueling life, but her eyes are still haunting. The photographer, his subject and the two images had come full circle -- and that’s the 51st photo.

Don’t miss this curation; it truly is remarkable. As Tom told me: “If a photo is said to be worth a thousand words, then these are worth a million each. Actually, they are beyond counting!”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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